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Max Roach: The Complete Mercury Max Roach: Plus Four Sessions

The death of Clifford Brown potentially jeopardized Max Roach’s budding career as a leader. Drummer leaders were few and far between. Additionally, new waves of instrumental stylists were making the transition from sideman to leader. Even though Roach had a contract with Mercury Records, he did not yet have a secure long-term niche; he still bore the onus of succeeding on his name alone. The Complete Mercury Max Roach Plus Four Sessions documents how Roach achieved this, producing a body of work that, while consistent with market trends, stood apart in terms of uncompromising rigor.

Less than two months after Brown’s June, 1956, fatal car crash, Roach’s first solo Mercury sessions with Sonny Rollins, Kenny Dorham, Ray Bryant and George Morrow yielded Max Roach + 4. Generally, the album recapitulates the Brown-Roach hard-bop agenda on tracks like Roach’s “Mr. X” and George Russell’s “Ezz-thetic.” Given his ascending star (Rollins’ stature would dictate Prestige’s release of a truly immortal Brown-Roach Quintet session as Sonny Rollins Plus 4), it is not surprising that Rollins moves center stage for ballads like “Body and Soul” (the tenor player’s first recorded performance), as well as sprinting show-stoppers like “Just One of Those Things.” While Dorham hands in several fiery performances, he doesn’t have Brown’s majestic presence; subsequently, were it not for Roach, Rollins would have dominated the session.

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