2 April 2006
MAX ROACH - PERCUSSION BITTER SWEET
Percussion Bitter Sweet is the most compelling, varied, dynamic snapshot of Max Roach's post-Clifford Brown ensembles. It features the doomed young genius Booker Little on trumpet, the innovative Eric Dolphy on alto and bass clarinet, Clifford Jordan on tenor, Julian Priester on trombone, Mal Waldron on piano and Art Davis on bass. Roach is never content just to mark time. Instead, his drums essay complex metric and polyrhythmic devices, while suggesting keyboard-like counterpoint and melodic motifs, as Davis goads him on with stately walking bass lines. But what makes Percussion Bitter Sweet such a rich, enduring recital is the drummer's colorful use of Afro-Cuban percussion and voice as a powerful multicultural subtext, celebrating the struggles and triumphs of Africans and African Americans (circa 1960) from Harlem (the celebratory "Garvey's Ghost") to Capetown ("Man from South Africa"). Little's darting filigree on the hard-swinging "Mama" is indicative of his breakthroughs in harmony and phrasing, while Dolphy's glorious, airborne flute, fulminating bass clarinet, and torchy, enraged alto enliven the waltzing "Tender Warriors" and the sardonic "Mendacity." On the latter, vocalist Abbey Lincoln's sassy, theatrical phrasing drips bluesy sarcasm in her spanking of a hypocritical racist establishment, setting the stage for Roach's furious, ritualistic rhythmic exorcism. Inspiring stuff.