Max Roach and Clark Terry
Eighty-Eight’s / Columbia
The fledgling Japanese label Eighty-Eight’s was already off to an auspicious start before it issued these two outstanding recordings (Mad 6 by Ravi Coltrane and Friendship by Clark Terry and Max Roach), so to have them in its growing catalogue can only further solidify its strong brand. One is the son of a jazz legend and an excellent musician in his own right; the other two guided modern jazz through some of its most formative stages, most notably Roach and the hard bop he pioneered with trumpeter Clifford Brown.
The younger Coltrane will, one suspects, inevitably be subject to critical comparisons to his father, who died when Ravi was just two years old. He waited until his early twenties to launch his professional jazz career (though the musical zeitgeist may have had something to do with it) and he has refused to use his father’s reputation to bully his way to the fore — only recently did he begin his stint as bandleader. That was in 1998, with Moving Pictures. Mad 6 marks his third outing as frontman. Featuring six musicians, the album was laid down with two different groups over two days, making it more of a double quartet than a sextet.
Against what some might call better judgment, Ravi chooses to open with his father•s “26-2,” though he appears to use it to define the differences with his father’s style of playing. Along with pianist George Colligan, whose own solo is splendid here, he ducks and dives through a slew of time signatures, steering clear the upper register and instead working with the more brawny mid- to low-range. He closes the album with “Fifth House,” another John Coltrane chart, as a final declaration of both homage and division. Ravi’s own tunes — there are four here, twice the amount found on From the Round Box (2000) — attest to a growing creative desire coupled with a distinct knack for composition. “Avignon,” “The Mad 6,” “Between Lines” and “The Return of Olymbus” are all reflections of a mature, thoughtful musician, though most do bend toward the impressionistic or the chaotic. Of these, the latter is the likely most accessible, while “Avignon,” with its trancelike piano hook and lush polyrhythmic structure, seems to beg to be covered by other jazz musicians in the future.
Save the two ballads — Mingus’ “Self Portrait in Three Colors” and Monk’s “Ask Me Now” (his “‘Round Midnight” gets too anxious a treatment to be a ballad here) — Mad 6 is a noticeably lively affair, full of Ravi’s personality, poetic vignettes and enjoyable digressions. By recording with the two groups (they share the capable drummer Steve Haas), he shrewdly demonstrates the consistency that his leadership can bring while preserving the subtle shades of difference between unique sets of musicians.
Just two months before Coltrane entered New York’s Avatar Studio with these different groups, Max Roach and Clark Terry recorded Friendship there. Both these men are in their eighties, but that seems like more of a footnote to the album than a crucial detail. Roach is as musical on his drums as ever, Terry as droll on flugelhorn and trumpet.
“Statements,” just shy of two minutes, is exactly that. Dancing around the skeleton of an old blues theme, Roach shows his approach to the drum kit is still spry and that he hasn’t eschewed his pitch-bending technique, while Terry blows and wails through a wiggling mute. Pianist Don Friedman and bassist Marcus McLaurine join the duo for the traditional Monk tune “Let’s Cool One,” a marvel of forthright musicianship. Back to Terry and Roach for “Brushes and Brass” — simple in title but not in performance — and then on to the Terry vehicle “Simple Waltz.” One reviewer noted that Roach’s percussion is conspicuously absent on “I Remember Clifford,” the following track, because he found the memories too painful. Listening to Terry’s frail, elegant rendition of Benny Golson’s heartbreaking tribute, it’s not hard to see why. But Roach makes up for it on “Lil Max,” a three-minute drum solo that revisits some of the themes in “Statements.”
Economy has always been Roach’s hallmark, and the longest track is the eight-minute “Makin’ Whoopee,” in which all four musicians share solo time. Terry’s mischievous intro gives way to Friedman’s sparkle and kick, which abruptly moves to McLaurine and his daydream up and down the strings of his double bass, finally wrapping up with Roach, who delights in stops and starts, frenetic attacks and awkward silences.
As progressive as it is conventional, Friendship is one of many strong jazz albums to emerge in the past few months. It would be significant for that alone. Taken in conjunction with Mad 6, however, it suggests that Eighty Eight’s is bound to be a powerhouse in a very promising jazz resurgence.