Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
More than any other jazz percussionist, Max Roach is a melodic improviser. He doesn't just play thundering sets of rhythm. Roach's music is filled fine dynamics, intricate thematic development and a dazzling array of tonal qualities.
In his opening set Monday night at Blue Alley, Roach performed a powerful solo entirely on a double cymbal. He struck the two-layered cymbal from every angle - on top, from the bottom and the sides - and he crushed the two together rapidly for an electrifying aural effect.
Roach also delivered an unaccompanied drum solo - "South Africa God-damn" from the "South Africa Suite" he and saxophonist Archie Shepp composed (it won a French Grand Prix du Disque for 1977). Brief but packed with rich and driving rhythmic ideas, the solo captured much of the emotiion of his strong political opposition to the South African government.
Roach, in a jovial mood, recalled to the audience the days (the late 1940s) when he played with Charile Parker. "Bird used to tune up by starting a set at a blistering tempo," the drummer remembered. "He did that because he never practiced and that was his way of tuning up for the evening".
He said that he and trumpeter Miles Davis, both members if the Parker quintet, used to tremble at the prospect of how the alto saxophonist would begin the evening. Now he's doing the same with his group. Perhaps after shedding their opening night uncertainty, his sideman may play with increased confidence and power.
They continue through Saturday night.