Max Roach & Anthony Braxton: One In Two, Two In One

Chris May By

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Max Roach & Anthony Braxton
One In Two, Two In One

Revisiting the legacy of the drummer Max Roach, who passed aged 83 in August 2007, one is reminded that his years of great music making were not confined to the birth of bop in the 1940s or its morph into hard bop in the 1950s. Alone among bop's founding fathers, Roach was still turning it out in the late 1990s—still searching for new sounds and new styles and, more often than not, nailing them.

So while it is entirely appropriate that a benchmark early album like We Insist! Freedom Now Suite (Candid, 1960, 2007) has been reissued to commemorate Roach's passing—with more, including his hard bop explorations with trumpeter Clifford Brown, in the pipeline—Roach's work during the last forty years of his life also deserves to be celebrated.

Of Roach's important later albums, One In Two, Two In One, a duo with the multi-reed player Anthony Braxton, is actually a relatively early one. It was recorded in 1979 at Jazz Festival Willisau. Roach was 55 years old at the time, Braxton only 34.

It is an extraordinary album and an extraordinary cross-generation project, which works because the older man is still hungry for change and development and the younger is still referencing the music of his formative years. They meet somewhere in the middle and for 75 minutes, in one intimate and unbroken conversation, with barely a longueur amongst it, startle, transfix and delight the listener.

There were no preconceived details or predetermined structural outline for the performance, the chapters of which are marked by one of the two musicians switching instruments—Roach from drum kit to bells and gongs, for instance, or Braxton from soprano saxophone to clarinet. As the instrumentation and textures change, so does the mood of the music, from the fierce alto saxophone and snare drum work out halfway through "Part 1," to the delicate flute and tuned cymbals passage at the start of "Part 2", on to the straight-ahead, swinging alto saxophone and full traps closing movement.

There are 14 distinct chapters, almost all of them engrossing, with Braxton moving between soprano, sopranino and alto saxophones, clarinet, flute and contrabass clarinet. Roach switches between a conventional drum kit and close-up focus on just one tuned percussion instrument. Amongst the highlights is a 7 minute section early in "Part 1," with Braxton on contrabass clarinet creating wierd, fluttering, birdsong over Roach's multi-colored cymbals and bells. Close your eyes and you could be in a South American rainforest. Or on another planet entirely.

This is music which demands the full attention of the listener to reveal all of its considerable beauty—but it's not "difficult" music. It's consistently melodic, and often, but not always, played with a fixed meter. It's subtle, it's layered and it's got depth. It's a blast.

Tracks: Part 1; Part 2.

Personnel: Max Roach: drum kit, percussion, gongs, tuned cymbals; Anthony Braxton: alto, soprano and sopranino saxophones, clarinet and contrabass clarinet, flute.

Track Listing: Tracks: Part 1; Part 2.

Personnel: Personnel: Max Roach: drum kit, percussion, gongs, tuned cymbals; Anthony Braxton: alto, soprano and sopranino saxophones, clarinet and contrabass clarinet, flute.

Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Hatology | Style: Modern Jazz

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