MAX ROACH is the master of polyrhythmic percussion, the Art Tatum of the drums, and one of the most influential figures in the evolution of jazz over the last 40 years. From his pioneering work with Charlie Parker and Clifford Brown to his more recent duet encounters with Anthony Braxton and Cecil Taylor, he has continued to redefine his instruments' possibilities and to expand his music's parameters. The last year has seen several aspects of Roach's current work committed to vinyl in counterpoint to the re-release (on high-quality Japanese pressings) of a number of key albums from the '50s. M'BOOM -- "Collage" (Soul Note 1059). This is the vanguard ten-man percussion ensemble that Roach organized in 1972 in order to explore the melodic and harmonic possibilities of rhythm instruments. Mallet instruments such as marimbas, vibraphones and steel drums provide the deft contours, with coloration and shading coming from dozens of common and exotic brethren. The ensemble's collective spirit is most evident in the supple waves of rhythm coursing through "Circles," the sauntering blues of "Street Dance" and the sassy Carnival atmosphere of "Jamaican Sun." (M'Boom performs Saturday afternoon at the D.C. Convention Center as part of the Capital City Jazz Festival.)
MAX ROACH QUARTET -- "Scott Free" (Soul Note 1103). A powerful 40-minute performance recorded last year featuring the current Quartet of Roach, trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater, tenor saxophonist Odean Pope and bassist Tyrone Brown. Bridgewater's extended composition, inspired by the case of the Scottsboro Boys, is structured to give each player two extended solo spots (the grit-conscious Pope takes one unaccompanied), musically mirroring that historic injustice's pattern of trial, retrial and ultimate resolution in freedom.
MAX ROACH QUINTET -- "Max Roach 4 at Newport" (Mercury 195J-42, PSI import). This 1958 concert performance also featured Coleman and Little plus tuba player Ray Draper (all of 18, and sounding it). Outside of Coleman's lovely ballad "Deeds Not Words," the tunes are unbriddled romps like "Night in Tunisia" and "Tune-Up."
MAX ROACH -- "Survivors" (Soul Note 1093). One side is a clever turnaround featuring a full and fiery 20-minute improvised solo from Roach, with a classical string quartet fulfilling the rhythm section role while the drums act as lead instrument. Peter Phillips wrote the jittery score, which Roach enlivens with his powerhouse invention. Side two consists of six shorter solo pieces with varied time signatures; intricate, overlapping crosscurrents of rhythm; and constantly shifting dynamics in which Roach sustains his reputation as the most melodic drummer alive * "Max Roach on the Chicago Scene" (Emarcy 195J-41). A 1957 showcase for the hard blowing of tenor saxophonist George Coleman and trumpeter Booker Little (a brilliant improviser here at age 19, he would die of uremia four years later). The music is classic hard bop, with Coleman's impassioned blowing and Little's expressive bursts dominating, though the two ballads, "Stella by Starlight" and "My Old Flame," are also lovely.
* "Max Roach Plus Four & More" (Emarcy 195J-39). A treasure with seven previously unreleased tracks from 1957 featuring two classic Roach groups, the Kenny Dorham-Sonny Rollins quintet and the Dorham-Hank Mobley quartet. Dorham (who died in 1972) was an underrated trumpeter in the Clifford Brown/Fats Navarro school, while Rollins was solidifiying his position as one of the dominant tenor men of the era. His bright and brittle horn races through a jumpy version of "It Don't Mean a Thing" and cools down for the elegiac "Love Letters." Mobley's innate lyricism and round sound are evident on the latter song, but his reading of "Anthropology" is confirmation of Mobley's penchant for oblique rhythms and complex ideas.
All these albums are available domestically through PolyGram Special Imports, which next week will release "Easy Winners," featuring Roache's double quartet (jazz and classical).