My Little Red Book

Max Roach and Archie Shepp
Force (Sweet Mao – Suid Afrika 76)
Uniteledis : 1976

MR, drums; AS, sax.

This exceptional double-album of duets with Archie Shepp helped inaugurate Max Roach’s own revolutionary cultural program. Over the ensuing years, he purposefully connected with the younger generation of adventurous jazz musicians, engaging in a series of stellar duets with Dollar Brand, Anthony Braxton, and Cecil Taylor. Roach not only reinvigorated his own music and pushed his playing to dazzling heights, he proved himself (at least) the creative equal of his esteemed partners.

The title of Force (Sweet Mao – Suid Afrika 76) throws down the gauntlet at least three different ways simultaneously – embracing power, while highlighting Mao’s radical communism and the apartheid injustices of South Africa. We’re not entirely clear how that nexus of associations plays out (reverse cultural cleansing?) but it’s certainly provocative and poetically charged and sets the stage for the music.

“La Preparation” opens with a symphonic drum barrage that leads into a poised and relentlessly fiery duet between Roach and Shepp. Shepp knits some melodic shards into the piece, but it’s Roach who keeps things moving at a martial tempo. Here are two masters speaking in similar but not identical tongues. Both typically bring a lyrical sensibility to even their most outre expeditions. Roach initially sounds like the more propulsive, linear force, while Shepp shapes a ballad that sits atop the incessant roiling. Later their positions switch, as Roach builds a tower of beats and it’s Shepp that carries the pair forward. And so it goes, back and forth, with Roach closing, solo, much as he began.

While Roach was only getting warmed up, Archie Shepp’s playing on this and the excellent Maoist sequel The Long March constitutes some of his last great work in this vein. From here, there was a rapprochement with the tradition, an over-tendency toward ballads, and a slight diminishing of fire and tone. Then again, maybe we’re overlooking some gems? Enlighten us in the comments.

For much more on Max Roach, see our memorial post.

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For a red book of an entirely different sort, see this fascinating site.

AND: Stay tuned. Next week brings a stomping preview track (from some presumed Alcott fans), supported by a guest post from the band, and some site design changes as well.

Category Archie Shepp, Max Roach Tags , ,