Max Roach: Jazz Contrasts & Introducing Johnny Griffin

Francis Lo Kee By

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Kenny Dorham
Jazz Contrasts (Keepnews Collection)

Johnny Griffin
Introducing (RVG)
Blue Note

These two fantastic recordings feature the great drumming of the late Max Roach. His playing is flawless and demonstrates how a drummer can be both dramatic soloist and sensitive accompanist.

Kenny Dorham was the trumpet player that replaced Miles Davis in the Charlie Parker Quintet and Clifford Brown in the Max Roach Quintet. Despite these high-profile gigs it wouldn't be a stretch to say that Dorham was underrated, which is why it's great that Jazz Contrasts is being reissued in the Keepnews Collection series. In his "revisited" (2006, as opposed to original 1957) liner notes, producer Orrin Keepnews states, "This is one of my favorite 'blowing' albums, ever." Yet even the most casual observer will try to square that statement with the title and the inclusion of a classical harpist (Betty Glamman) in the personnel. It was meant to be a 'concept' album, with the dramatic shifts in tempo and the harp functioning as an entire string section, but the improvising here is as strong and unencumbered as any legendary jam session. For instance on the opening tune, "Falling in Love with Love," Dorham solos with accuracy, passion and a beautiful tone in Ab major, but then the band effortlessly modulates to Bb major for solos by Sonny Rollins and Hank Jones. After Roach's drum solo, which utilizes some unique brush techniques, Dorham returns with the melody back in Ab major. "Larue" is a ballad that features the harp's strumming glissandi with Dorham's rich tone and sophisticated melodic improvisation. Roach pushes the tempos on "I'll Remember April" and "La Villa" into the stratosphere and plays the kind of solos that solidified his reputation as the drummer in the modern jazz era.

Johnny Griffin, known to be one of the fastest, most hard-charging tenor players ever, turns 80 this month. Griffin's Introducing was recorded within months of Clifford Brown's tragic death in June of 1956. And what an introduction it is! Roach kicks off Griff's original "Mil Dew" at a tempo that's off the meter. Based on "I Got Rhythm," Griffin includes quotes from "Surrey with a Fringe On Top" and funky blues licks that seem to say, "I could play it twice as fast." Pianist Wynton Kelly is a good foil and bassist Curley Russell provides a wonderful bounce. Griffin, of course, is not only about speed and his phrasing on just the melody of "These Foolish Things" is a virtual master class on how to excite a simple line. Kelly's piano solo moves the feel to a steadying, light trot as if to reassure Griffin's sorrowful wail. Roach's drums crescendo to the reentry of Griffin. This tune has been covered hundreds of times, but you won't want to miss this definitive version. For some reason "Cherokee," the mother of all burning bebop tunes, didn't make it on to the original LP. Listening to Griffin here will send the most accomplished musicians back to the woodshed!

For students and devotees of mid '50s jazz improvisation you couldn't pick two better recordings.

Tracks and Personnel

Jazz Contrasts (Keepnews Collection)

Tracks: Falling in Love with Love; I'll Remember April; Larue; My Old Flame; But Beautiful; La Villa.

Personnel: Kenny Dorham: trumpet; Sonny Rollins: tenor saxophone (except tracks 3 & 5); Hank Jones: piano; Oscar Pettiford: bass; Max Roach: drums; Betty Glamman: harp (tracks 3-5 only).

Introducing (RVG)

Tracks: Mil Dew; Chicago Calling; These Foolish Things; The Boy Next Door; Nice and Easy; It's Alright With Me; Lover Man; The Way You Look Tonight; Cherokee.

Personnel: Johnny Griffin, tenor sax; Wynton Kelly, piano; Curly Russell, bass; Max Roach, drums.


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