Thursday, August 16, 2007

R.I.P. Max Roach

Max Roach is dead. Simply put, he was the most accomplished and important jazz drummer in the world. He cut his teeth as a teenager playing with Charlie Parker, where he advanced upon the work of the first jazz be-bop drummer Kenny Clarke and became widely known as the most imaginative and influential drummer in the world.

He deserved the title. Roach's most famous performance is probably on Miles Davis' seminal Birth of the Cool, but Roach played with all of the greats of his day, cutting albums with the likes of Dizzy, Cecil Tayler, Eric Dolphy, Thelonious Monk, Stanley Turrentine, and George Coleman, to name a few. Perhaps his greatest collaboration was his short lived quintet with trumpet virtuoso Clifford Brown. Anything by these two is a must have. Their studio album, Brown and Roach, Inc, is a classic.

When Brown died in a car wreck in June 1956, Roach was plunged into depression and nearly drank himself to death. Thankfully, he recovered and went on to record dozens of uncompromising and relentlessly inventive albums. Some of the best work in this part of his career was with Sonny Rollins, with whom he cut many unforgettable tracks.

My personal favorite album of Roach's is his own Members, Don't Get Weary. Written partially in response to the Civil Rights movement, this diverse collection represents Roach at his most vulnerable and passionate. Ranging from lowdown grooves of "Abstrutions," to the gospel-inflected title track, to the modern post-bop feel of "Absolutions," Roach's versatility is outpaced only by religious/emotional lucidity in this unforgettable human triumph.

Do yourself a favor and go listen to some Roach today in honor of the man. It was only a few years ago that we lost Elvin Jones. Now, with the death of Roach, we have lost the last of the legendary drummers who defined rhythm for generations to come.