Music Review: Nashville Jazz Workshop pays homage to the genius of Max Roach and Clifford Brown

roach-brownJazz On The Move, a free concert series held at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in conjunction with the Nashville Jazz Workshop, began its eighth season Sunday in excellent fashion.

A first-rate quintet celebrated the compositions and artistry of the Max Roach/Clifford Brown quintet. They were a superb hard bop unit whose tenure was sadly cut short due to a tragic car accident that claimed the lives of both Brown and pianist Richie Powell. But their influence and impact still resonate today.

Brown’s intensity, lyricism and technical brilliance established him as a premier trumpet stylist, while Roach was one of bebop’s rhythmic innovators. Along with Kenny Clarke, he helped popularize a dramatic change in approach among drummers.

Roach’s admonition that drum solos ought to “tell a story” led him to not only explore different beats and directions but utilize the entire kit rather than mainly emphasize the bass drum. He didn’t just offer a bevy of beats, he organized ideas, textures and rhythms into memorable statements.

Trumpeter Jamey Simmons and drummer Chris Brown served as the contemporary vehicles to demonstrate for a packed house the vitality of the Brown/Roach material, ably supported by saxophonist Denis Solee, pianist Joe Davidian and bassist Jim Ferguson.

Simmons and Brown consistently displayed the rigorous desire and commitment that Brown and Roach championed on the bandstand. Simmons, with occasional inserts from other group members, added history and context between tunes, with information about everything from compositional origins to band members’ personalities and lifestyles.

During Brown’s brief but comprehensive segment he provided insight into how and why Roach was such an innovative figure during the advent of the bop era. He presented a crisp, 16-bar solo that took drumming from its swing principles into the new territory of modern jazz. Brown later repeated it via several impressive solos and equally strong accompaniment and interaction within the rhythm section.

Bassist Ferguson is also a fine vocalist, but on this occasion concentrated on the instrumental end. He delivered intricate, exacting solos, and was just as vital in helping propel the ensemble. Though Davidian’s spotlight moments came mainly towards the end of the 70-minute plus set, he offered fluid, dynamic solos during the tunes “Joy Spring” and “The Blues Walk.”

The group not only performed stellar presentations of Roach/Brown tunes but also adeptly covered other related material. The program included “Salute To The Band Box,” a piece Brown recorded while on a European tour with Lionel Hampton, along with such other tunes as Bud Powell’s “Parisian Thoroughfare” and Benny Golson’s poignant “I Remember Clifford.”

Simmons’ played with a confident assertiveness, showing a flair and energy that reflected his love of Brown’s sound and desire to accurately represent it without aiming for exact replication (impossible). He was especially memorable on “The  Blues Walk,” delivering a flamboyant solo with piercing melodies and exciting upper register flurries.

Solee was smooth and elegant, yet also soulful and spirited. His warm tenor was a fine complement to Simmons’ bright trumpet, and their exchanges on “The Blues Walk,” and solos on “Deliah” and “Joy Spring” ranked among the set highlights.

It was quite appropriate that one day before the Library of Congress formally released a host of newly acquired Max Roach archival material that a first-rate group of Nashville musicians would present a stirring tribute to the great music that he and Clifford Brown gave the world during their time together.

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About Ron Wynn

Ron Wynn is a music critic, author and editor. His features, reviews and articles have run locally in the Nashville Scene, The City Paper (Nashville) and on among others. Wynn is currently sports editor for the Tennessee Tribune and a contributor to Jazz Times. He is former editor of the New Memphis Star and former chief jazz and pop music critic for the Bridgeport Post-Telegram and the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Wynn has contributed to such publications such as Billboard, The Village Voice, Creem, Rock & Roll Disc, Living Blues, The Boston Phoenix, and Rejoice. He was the editor of the first edition of The All Music Guide to Jazz (1994), and from 1993 to 1994 served as the jazz and rap editor of the All Music Guide. Wynn is the author of The Tina Turner Story. He has contributed liner notes for numerous albums; his liner notes for “The Soul of Country Music” received a 1998 Grammy nomination.