Roy Brooks was a preeminent hard-bop drummer who early on participated in seminal recording dates led by Horace Silver, Yusef Lateef and Sonny Stitt. In this release entitled Understanding, produced by Cory Weeds and Zev Feldman for Reel To Real Records, Brooks is documented live by The Left Bank Jazz Society at The Famous Ballroom in Baltimore on November 1, 1970. The limited-edition 180 gram 3-LP gatefold set of previously unreleased material, features a stellar band including trumpeter Woody Shaw, tenor saxophonist Carlos Garnett, pianist Harold Mabern and bassist Cecil McBee.
The start of the 1970s set out a movement towards freer improvisation to offer a path for expansion in harmony, structure and character. As a result, the listener was expected to adopt a new set of standards for listening, comprehending and dissecting the music. The five compositions that are presented in this recording fall into this category, and while they may appear to be arbitrary and unstructured, they do have a fundamental and textural construct. Additionally, the compositions are unusual in length, each taking the complete side of the LP. The playing is intense and demanding and the rhythm is propulsive, with Brooks ferocious behind the drum kit.
Disc One features two Brooks compositions, "Prelude to Understanding" and "Understanding." On the first, following a rubato introduction, the band begins its lengthy excursion into the lines, harmony and character of the number. Shaw is exhilarating, with intense playing for an extended period. He hardly seems to draw a breath. Mabern and McBee work together to build a rapport, while Brooks is working overtime to create a dynamic of rhythm, accents and shapes to move the number forward. With "Understanding," the style shifts to a 16+16 bar form with a Latin rhythm. Garnett dives into the fray with his high-tailing sound and fluent approach. McBee offers an extended fleet-fingered solo that has some similarities to flamenco strumming. Shaw and Mabern continue to demonstrate that they are soloists of energy and quicksilver brilliance.
Disc Two rides the Charlie Parker composition "Billie's Bounce" for a full twenty-one minutes. This bebop classic was written as a 12 bar blues, but the version offered here is a far cry from the original intent. The last two tunes are Shaw's "Zoltan" and Garnett's "Taurus Woman." The former is a 32 bar structure in the Lydian mode. Shaw is in full control as he tears through the changes. Brooks pushes the tempo up throughout the number, almost leaving Mabern behind. Garnett, of Panamanian heritage, is the key player in his own composition, one evolves into a Latin groove with Afro-Cuban references as created by Brooks. Garnett's tenor solo is coherent for the most part, although it does include what you might consider to be unnecessary squeals and squawking.
The twenty page high-gloss booklet that accompanies this set is a treasure trove of information about the recording and the participants. There are photos, interviews, essays and stories, all of which add to the experience.
Disc One: Side A: Prelude to Understanding; Side B: Understanding.
Disc Two: Side C: Billie's Bounce; Side D: Zoltan.
Disc Three: Side E: Taurus Woman; Side F: Taurus Woman (Continuation); The Theme.