Lift Every Voice and Sing

Max Roach

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Lift Every Voice and Sing Review

by Vincent Thomas

Max Roach grew up in the church. His mother was a gospel singer. Few albums exhibit the church's lasting effect on his musical direction than Lift Every Voice and Sing. It's deeper than the album title. Roach invited the J.C. White Singers to accompany him along with tenor saxophonist Billy Harper's heart-wrenched solos. With all due respect to Roach -- who at the time of this recording was a legend and perhaps jazz's most impactful drummer to date -- Harper and the choir are the stars of this show. Listeners who aren't fans of gospel might not enjoy songs such as "Garden of Prayer" and "Troubled Waters," but make no mistake, this is a jazz album. The album's highlights, such as the dirge "Motherless Child," are accented, not dominated, by the gospel motif. Cecil Bridgewater turns in an inspired solo on "Let Thy People Go," an especially grooving tune propelled by Roach and pianist George Cables and lent an ominous heft from the J.C. White Singers. But it's the Elvin Jones/John Coltrane-esque interplay between Roach and Harper on "Joshua" that makes this album unforgettable -- every time the choir comes in, the emotion is enough to crumble the Wall of Jericho.

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