Most drummers see their solos as a chance to prove how fast and hard they can play. Last night at the Museum of Natural History, however, jazz legend Max Roach used each solo to make a definite melodic and ultimately harmonic statement. Just the way he weighted every high-hat kick differently was a measure of his rare control over each beat's timing, pitch and strength. His meditative rolls were shaded by light touches, pauses and cross-arm combinations. He saved the cymbals for the peak moments, when he played as hard and fast as anyone ever has.
Roach's quartet has improved noticeably over the past year. Trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater and tenor saxophonist Odean Pope have obviously emulated their 57-year-old bandleader. The two young horn players sustained tumbling phrases like drum rolls; they broke off phrases with the sharpness of a snare shot; they accented crescendos with shrill squawks like cymbal smacks. Bridgewater wrote the ambitious half-hour suite, "Scot Free," that dominated the first set. Pope shone on a glowing solo in Benny Golson's "I Remember Clifford" in the second. Bassist Calvin Hill kept up with Roach's indefatigable rhythms.
Roach opened a "Jazz Weekend" at the museum that continues with Old & New Dreams tonight, and John Lewis, Hank Jones, Jaki Byard and the Sam Rivers Ensemble tomorrow.