Max Roach on Clifford Brown's EmArcy Recordings
“ Because of Roach's brilliant technique and a penchant for taking extended, virtuosic solos, it's easy to lose sight of the variegated nature of his drumming, including saying a lot with only a few strokes; offering unobtrusive support to a soloist at low dynamic levels... ”
Max Roach's prodigious drumming in ensembles co-led by trumpeter Clifford Brown during the early-to-mid 1950s ranks as some of the most important work of his legendary six-decade career. Throughout the 97 tracks of Brownie: The Complete EmArcy Recordings Of Clifford Brown, Roach radiates power, keen intelligence, organizational flair, as well as exhibiting the capacity for rapid change. Nearly everything he plays exudes an air of utmost certainty. He balances the forceful and directive aspects of his artistry with finesse, flexibility, and a steady, patient character. Because of Roach's brilliant technique and a penchant for taking extended, virtuosic solos, it's easy to lose sight of the variegated nature of his drumming, including saying a lot with only a few strokes; offering unobtrusive support to a soloist at low dynamic levels; and evoking a multiplicity of textures from a four piece drum set and a few cymbals.
Throughout solos by tenor saxophonist Harold Land and trumpeter Clifford Brown on "Delilah" (Disc 1, Track 1), Roach sustains an amiable swinging groove in an organized and imaginative manner. His drumming is firm but not especially potent or controlling; and he generally forsakes interaction in favor of a supportive role. Inside these parameters there's a good deal of color and variety. There's nothing random about what Roach is doing; he is thinking his way through each 8 bar section of the tune's 32 measure form. In synch with George Morrow's walking bass line, sometimes the bass drum carries the pulse; in other instances repetitive patterns (for example, combining rim knocks on beats 2 or 4 with bouncing 3 or 4 stroke figures to the floor tom-tom) aid in moving the band forward. He also employs an assortment of rhythms in ways that are not meant to draw attention but nonetheless exert an influence on the music. Snare drum patterns often have a quasi-shuffle feel and are executed with varying degrees of emphasis and volume. The occasional stout hit to the muffled bass drum sets-up or ends a sequence; and, in one instance, a three-note phrase on the snare marks the transition from one eight-bar section to the next. In some cases, eighth-note triplets executed with one stick serve as fills; in others, strokes to the low tom-tom push against the pulse.
Aside from straight four beats per measure, and intermittent shots that round out or complement his snare drum comping, Roach uses the bass drum in novel ways for extended periods. Four episodes during Land and Brown's solos on a medium tempo version of Bud Powell's "Parisian Thoroughfare" (Disc 1, Track 3) are prime examples of his use of the rock hard sound, both alone and in concert with other drums, to create patterns that have a powerful, and sometimes unsettling effect on the music. The flat muffled timbre of the drum is as important as the rhythms he plays. If it rang out or projected any more, its punchy effect would turn slack and ineffective. When he uses the big drum as a hefty contrast to every other component in his kit, precision remains one of Roach's central preoccupations.
Toward the end of Land's one chorus solo, four hits (three placed off of the beat, and one that lands squarely on the beat), spread out over the better part of three measures, constitute a phrase that throws its weight around without breaking up the music's overall flow. On the eighth bar of Brown's first chorus, Roach uses the bass drum at the end of four strokes to the floor tom-tom, just a shade before the downbeat of the next measure, sounding as if he's breaking a fall. A little later on Roach repeats a bucking two-note figure between the snare and bass drum that favors the bass for 4 bars. The lopsided line works against the pulse and swings in its own stubborn manner, matching Brown's accented blasts. Immediately before Brown's second chorus, Roach begins a simpler, repetitive riff, again lasting for 4 bars, using the bass drum (the snare strokes that surround it are scarcely audible) immediately before the first beat then squarely on the second beat of each measure. Its genial regularity punctuates Richie Powell's chords and the trumpeter's vivacious phrasing.