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January/February 2008

Roy Haynes
A Life In Time: The Roy Haynes Story
Dreyfus Records

A Life in Time, three discs of music plus an accompanying DVD chronicling the nearly 60-year career of drummer Roy Haynes, sets a parlor game in motion: Name a major figure from the bebop and subsequent postbop era that Haynes hasn’t recorded with.

Even a partial listing of leaders represented on this set staggers. From the ’40s, Lester Young and Bud Powell; the ’50s, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk and Sarah Vaughan; the ’60s, Eric Dolphy, John Coltrane, Stan Getz, Jackie McLean, Andrew Hill and Chick Corea. Later decades find Haynes with Alice Coltrane, Gary Burton and Michel Petrucciani. (Another few discs touching on Haynes’ work with Art Farmer, Wardell Gray, Art Pepper and Pat Metheny, to mention just a few of the master players missing here, could easily form another volume of this well-deserved tribute.) And as the final tracks on disc three forcefully assert, the octogenarian Haynes is still a monster of a percussionist, a force of nature seemingly untouched by the ravages of time.

Haynes came up in an era swarming with superb drummers, including such creative legends as Max Roach, Art Blakey and Philly Joe Jones. The set’s earliest tracks (both from 1949), “Ding Dong,” under the leadership of Lester Young, and “Bouncing With Bud,” an all-star outing fronted by Bud Powell and featuring Sonny Rollins and Fats Navarro, display the 24-year-old Haynes’ technical expertise and already individualized approach. His style is a balance of outwardly opposing forces that somehow cohere: busy yet subtle, aggressive yet sensitive, extroverted yet supportive, announced by a crackling snare and hissing cymbal tone as personal as a birthmark.

What best sets Haynes apart, other than his distinctive sound and style, is his extraordinary adaptability. It’s no shame to label Haynes a brilliant sideman; unlike Roach and Blakey, Haynes never excelled as a talent-nurturing bandleader. The best early recordings under Haynes’ own name usually drew on exceptional guests, as in We Three with Phineas Newborn and Paul Chambers, and the sparkling Out in the Afternoon with Tommy Flanagan, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Henry Grimes, from which “Long Wharf” and “Snap Crackle” are culled.

Over the course of the box set, Haynes finds the perfect groove for a dizzying variety of performances. The examples of Haynes’ uncanny ability to retain his own voice while supporting others, exhibiting his whirlwind swing (Dolphy’s “Green Dolphin Street,” Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things,” Corea’s “Matrix”), his sensitivity to vocalists (Vaughan’s “How High the Moon,” Etta Jones’ “Don’t Go to Strangers”), his ease with sculpted arrangements (Getz’s “I’m Late, I’m Late,” Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments”), his transformation to jazz modernist (Hill’s “Black Fire,” McLean’s “Esoteric,” Alice Coltrane’s “Transfiguration”), among them, all secure Haynes a permanent place in the jazz pantheon.

The third disc, devoted exclusively to Haynes-led sessions, has its smattering of duds as the overly eager drummer dips his toes into ill-defined fusion territory. It’s a tribute to Haynes’ sustained autumnal powers that titles from excellent recordings of the past decade, including those of his trio with pianist Danilo Perez and bassist John Patitucci, and his work on Chick Corea’s revisionist celebration of Bud Powell, are conspicuously missing.

Yet the ferocity of Haynes’ 21st-century mainstream bands makes up for these missteps. The concluding “Segment,” from the 2006 Whereas, captures an 80-plus-year-old Haynes mercilessly whipping his much younger compatriots into overdrive. An energized performance like this brings us full circle—the vigor and whip-smart musicality first displayed in 1949 by this phenomenal drummer remains plainly on view a lifetime later.

Originally published in January/February 2008
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