Max Roach

The Long March, Part 1

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Why these two CDs weren't issued in one package is a mystery. When they were originally issued in the early '80s on LP, they were a double set. The continuum of this great event -- the meeting of two truly influential and individual composers, arrangers, and instrumentalists -- was broken not just by physical space but time (since Part 2 was issued later). In any case, this isn't the fault of the players. This is truly a historic date where Max Roach and Archie Shepp played both solo and as a duo for one night in 1979 at the Willisau Jazz Festival. Part 1 features Roach's truly astonishing "J.C. Moses," a tribute to Pittsburgh jazz great J.C. Moses. The kinds of rim shots, trap stops and starts, and continuous rolling thunder take the breath away and make the listener wonder if this is really only one drummer. Next up is Shepp's solo tenor reading of Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady," where he coaxes from the ballad all its idiosyncrasies and fluidly combines them with his new jazz flourishes without once disrespecting the integrity of the original. Shepp adheres to his own rule that "you can hear every minute of every hour of every day that somebody put in on his horn when he plays a ballad." Finally, on the title track, the pair seeks the outer edges of what can be called jazz. Roach's disciplined fiery drumming is like great wails of roaring thunder (no matter how great Buddy Rich was, he was no Max Roach) where color, shape, ambiance, and dimension take on the quantum dictum of time. Shepp keeps up, unbelievably, by punching through the constant backdrop, repeating lines, recontextualizing them with different embouchures and emphases, then floating new ones through Roach's drums until only sound itself exists. Finally, on Shepp's "U-JAA-MA," the roots of bebop are pulled through the sleeve of modern improvisation. This is where the Europeans can't hang (nor do they want to): there is a soul and purpose here, that tradition exists not as history, but as a continual force and imprint on whatever comes next no matter how antithetical. And as hard bop, swing, bebop, free jazz, and Miles' particular brand of modal expression collide and weave together, this particular piece -- even though it is the halfway point in this collaboration -- is a fine cap, leaving the listener breathless, yes (how does Roach ring those bells while playing the kit with both hands -- in time!?), but literally begging for more. There is no duo record remotely like this one or its counterpart.

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