Freddie Roach

All That's Good

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On his final album for Blue Note, Freddie Roach decided to step outside -- way outside -- the tasteful soul-jazz that had become his trademark. Roach decided to make a concept album, one that captured the sound and vibe of what he calls "Soultown," or what critics like to call "black culture." Those terms would suggest that All That's Good is a gritty, funky collection of blues vamps and soul, but that's not the case at all. Supported by a trio of lesser lights -- guitarist Calvin Newborn, drummer Clarence Johnston, and tenor saxophonist Conrad Lester -- Roach never hits upon a groove, choosing to create a series of bizarre, hazy textures. That atmosphere is catapulted into the realms of the surreal by vocalists Phyllis Smith, Willie Tate, and Marvin Robinson, whose wordless, floating singing sounds spectral; the intent may have been to mimic a gospel choir, but the effect is that of a pack of banshees wailing in the background. The structures of the songs may follow traditional paths, but the eerie voices make the music surprisingly unsettling, which certainly wasn't Roach's intent. He may have been trying to make an epic portrait of contemporary black culture, but he's undone by his off-kilter arrangements (Harlan Howard's familiar "Busted" is nearly unrecognizable) and pedestrian, unmemorable songwriting. It's likely that, if the songs were delivered as straight-ahead soul-jazz, they wouldn't have made much impact so, in a weird way, it's almost fortunate that Roach attempted something grand, because All That's Good sounds like no other Blue Note record of the early '60s.

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