…the album remains an important document of the time, and occupies a valuable place in Roach’s extensive discography.

Arc Records ARC005

Gary Bartz (alto saxophone); Charles Tolliver (trumpet); Stanley Cowell (piano); Jymie Merritt (electric bass); Andy Bey (vocals on the title track only) 

Recorded, June 25 & 26, 1968

Another impressive vinyl reissue from Arc Records, and lovingly presented on 180-gram vinyl and mastered in mono from the original analogue master tapes. Complete with the original sleeve design and liner notes, the album is also graced with an insert featuring new notes from Charles Tolliver and Gary Bartz.

A tumultuous time in American history with the civil rights movement picking up momentum and the widespread condemnation of the Vietnam War. The US was in political turmoil with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and US Attorney General Robert Kennedy within just a few months of each other.

There is an overall feeling that this is music that is very much of its time. But what music! It is also, regrettably, the only recording by this particular line up.

The music catches Roach at a juncture in his career between the hard bop that he had helped define with his work with trumpeter Clifford Brown and his later performances with his all-percussion orchestra M’Boom in addition to solo recitals, and his forays into free improvisation in duets with Cecil Taylor and Anthony Braxton.

The album comprises original material from within the band, with no less than three of the six compositions penned by pianist Stanley Cowell.  The set opens with the funky theme and piano accompaniment of ‘Abstrutions’ in a composition that without doubt shows a debt to one Horace Silver.

The pianist solos first with a suitably quirky and rhythmically astute solo that is a little sparser than Silver may have approached such material while bassist Jimmy Merritt provides excellent support on his trademark Ampeg electric bass.

Cowell’s other two compositions also elicit some inspired contributions from the quintet. ‘Effi’ is a hard bop derived theme with some wonderful exchanges between Tolliver and Bartz over some driving work from Roach. This restless and almost relentless onslaught from the drummer pushes Bartz into a finely wrought solo in which he refuses to be bullied along by the leader.

This is followed immediately by the more relaxed but still keenly felt, ‘Euipoise’ with its elegant solo by Tolliver, and this unhurried feeling is picked up by the altoist in a fluid and lyrical offering that shows off Bartz’s more reflective side.

The hard bop element of the quintet’s music is now firmly established. The headlong themes are interspersed by some fine work from the front line horns of Tolliver and Bartz who exchange phrases and weave counter melodies around each other.

This is ably demonstrated in Gary Bartz’s offering ‘Libra’ that has an exciting solo from the altoist, and a firecracker of an outing from Tolliver.

‘Absolutions’ by Jymie Merritt, is a composition that the bassist would take with him when joining Lee Morgan’s band a couple of years later, and recording it on the trumpeter’s only live album, Live at the Lighthouse.

The tune has a punchy theme statement and recalls Merritt’s work with the Jazz Messengers and a little of the influence of Wayne Shorter, who was also in Art Blakey’s organisation at the time, in the shape of the composition.

Although a very different type of drummer than Blakey, Max Roach reins things in for ‘Absolutions’ and this approach allows the electric piano played by Cowell (the only time the instrument is heard on the album) to lighten things up following the intensity of the title track that proceeds it, and produces some nice concise solos from both Tolliver and Bartz.

In this lively and absorbing set, it is ironic that it is the title has dated the most. Penned by Roach and vocalist Andy Bey, the song very much echoes the sentiments and feelings of the time. Bey’s mournful tone imbues the lyrics with expression and passion, but the track is in stark comparison with the rest of the music that is joyously uplifting.

Having said that, the album remains an important document of the time, and occupies a valuable place in Roach’s extensive discography.