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Jackson Coyne

Clifford Brown and Max Roach at Basin Street


Clifford Brown and Max Roach at Basin Street was recorded in 1956, months
before Clifford Brown and pianist Richie Powell passed away individually. Clifford and
Max are joined by Richie Powell on piano, Sonny Rollins on tenor saxophone, and
George Morrow on double bass, as well as Bob Shad on production under the
EmArcy label. Basin Street was the last official album recorded by the Max Roach
quintet and the penultimate album that both Clifford and Richie played on together.
The album is classified as hard bop and considered among the most essential hard
bop recordings of all time. Overall the album is a nice blend of standards as well as
original compositions while delivering consistent virtuosic bebop improvisations
coupled with hemiolas and groove changes throughout.
The first track, the jazz standard What Is This Thing Called Love, is
precursor to a rhythmically dense album however this track begins with a vamp
similar to that of Dizzy and Birds A Night In Tunisia before it then the groove
switches to a fast swing groove. The intro is 64 bars with Max starting with ostinato
drum hits then the piano begins the vamp and then Sonny and Clifford join with
improvised lines however Sonny acts as a background. After the intro, Clifford plays
through the melody of the two A sections (8 bars each) then Sonny plays the B
(8 bars) and then Clifford finishes the form (last 8 bars). The last bar of the last A
is a grand pause with Clifford taking the break and playing the bebop scale
leading into the beginning of the form for his solo. Cliffords improvisational style
involves several larger interval leaps with sixteenth note lines following right after
however he still uses a lot of rest throughout the solo mixed evenly with the amount
that he is playing. Sonny infuses some of the backgrounds that he played in the
beginning of the track into his solo, especially during the beginning and end of his

solo. Sonny is well known for his development of motifs through his solos and during
this solo he repeats some of his ideas immediately after the first time with a
variation throughout the register of the horn. Richie plays fast runs between block
chords and then he switches to playing a string of eighth notes without stopping but
later develops to more rhythmically and melodically dense material. George takes a
walking bass solo while Sonny and Clifford play through a background figure twice
and then Max takes an extended drum solo. Max feel on the kit moves the beat
while maintaining the original tempo until the end of his solo in which he suddenly
stops and Clifford takes another break and then Sonny and him trade 8 bars back a
forth. After trading, the two play through the background figure twice again and
then Max takes an 8 bar solo leading in to the last A section and then a vamp with
the band returning to the groove they started with.
The second track on this album, Love Is A Many Splendored Thing, begins
with Max playing on the crash cymbal then a 6/8 feel for 4 bars and 12 bars of a
heavily swung two feel. The solos are in a fast swing again and yet again Clifford
takes the solo after the melody (ABA). Clifford begins with a lot of space in his solo
but it changes to feverish yet relaxed while incorporating wide palate of rhythms
such as turns. Sonny, similarly, incorporates several melodic ideas within his solo
but uses more rest within his solo than Clifford. Richie sequences the beginning of
phrases in order to add continuity within his improvisation yet he still uses a lot of
complex bebop vocabulary within a slightly rhythmically repetitive song. After the
other solos, Max takes an extended solo with Richie playing very minimal comping.
Max tears away from the established beat during his solo yet he is able to bring it
right back in to the pocket to begin the final time through the melody.

Powells Prances is the first original composition on the album and it is


written by Richie Powell. The tune has a faster bebop feel compared to the rest of
the album as it consists of a chromaticism, large interval leaps, and quick turns
with drum hits on odd beats between the phrases in the melody. Clifford takes the
first solo and his delivery of quick lines throughout the register of the trumpet is
truly impressive considering the speed and clarity with which he plays. Clifford
changes his sound during his solo by doodle tonguing and it adds another texture
to his playing along with his melodic diction. Clifford seems to draw some inspiration
for bebop licks from Dizzy Gillespie by incorporating some of Dizs common phrases.
After Cliffords blistering solo, Sonny matches in intensity as well as complexity.
Sonnys solo involves sequencing a lot of interval leaps which shows his thorough
understanding of chord-scale relationships and the how he can pull away from the
established chord progression through superimposition. Sonny also lends his playing
towards developing a motif so he repeats some phrases and then creates variations
on the phrases to add continuity between his overarching melodies. Its also
interesting that he almost quotes the melody of Strode Rode at the end of his
solo. Richie begins with a riff that he quickly changes from but he continues to
develop motifs, much like Sonny, through is solo by variation on phrases. After
Richies solo, Max takes the final solo to lead to them melody out. Max keep most of
his solo on the toms and the snare but he throws in the ride cymbal as well. After
the first A section, the group moves to a new section meant to be the outro with
completely different drum hits but still between harmonized tenor and trumpet
melodies with the ending descending into an improvised fermata between the piano
and drums.

Another one of the original compositions on this album was Step Lightly
(Juniors Arrival) and it has a medium swing with the piano comping on the offbeat
a lot. The song has a heavy bounce the groove and that feel is reflected in the
melody of the tune. The form of the tune is AABA with each A section being 10
bars and the B section being 8 bars. Clifford takes the first solo and delivers a
continuous stream of notes while sequencing a couple of phrases. Cliffords usual
improvisational style is seen in the larger interval leaps that he makes at the
beginning and ending of phrases as well as his incorporation of turns with common
bebop vocabulary with a personalized delivery. Sonnys solo reflects some of the
ideas that Clifford uses in his solo but yet again Sonny uses more space and less
complex strings of notes in his solo to emphasize what he is playing to make each
note demand more attention from a listener. Richies solo is a mix between Sonny
and Clifford in terms of busy-ness and complexity, however his solo tends to lean
towards a heavily swung eighth note melodic line. After all of the solos, Max takes
an 8 bar solo to lead the band in to the melody of the tune and then they play
through the first A with a variation on the last bar to finish the tune with harmony
between the trumpet and saxophone.
The final tune on the album is Flossie Lou, which is another original
composition. The tune has an AABA form with each section being 8 bars. The groove
of the tune is best described as a swing however the piano has an intro that has a
swing/stride feel. The tenor saxophone line moves on the held out notes to create a
rhythmic counterpoint against the trumpet melody aside from them playing in
unison. The group takes their usual order for solos. Cliffords solo on this last track
has a lot more blues influence within his melodic diction but still retains most of his
bebop/virtuosic rhythmic standpoint. Sonny echoes the ending of Cliffords solo to

begin his own solo which sounds pretty cool as Sonny quickly develops from the
initial idea to a full bebop/hard bop solo. Sonnys solo involves sequencing and
variation as well but it is with non-blues vocabulary. Richies solo on this tune
incorporates more dissonance than any of the other solos he plays on the album but
it still retains a heavy swing influence similar to Monk. Max then closes the solo
section with a medium length solo leading in to the melody of the song. The group
plays the full form out with an abrupt stop at the end of the last A and then the
album has the false starts and non-published takes.

Overall I believe that this album is regarded as one of the most influential
hard bop recordings of all time is because the forms are simple and the order is the
same every time however in the spirit of a true bebop album, the focus is meant to
be on the soloist and less on the melody or the arrangement. The straight forward
approach of the album coupled with the caliber of the group and the individuals
creates such a captivating performance. I learned from this album that sometimes
the most straight-forward approach is in fact the most effective when you are trying
to showcase a hard bop quintet.