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Max Roach - We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite LP

Max Roach - We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite LP

Sowing Records (Italy) / Candid Records

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Vinyl Edition
"The cover art for 1961's We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite is a grainy black-and-white photo of three Black men at a lunch counter looking on. There is a white man wearing a soda jerk's uniform apprehensively looking at the camera too. During the heyday of the civil rights era, this was an incendiary comment directed at a still-segregated U.S. that arrived just after the Montgomery Bus Boycott and student lunch counter sit-ins. Roach was a bebop innovator who had recorded several standard-setting outings with trumpeter Clifford Brown, and he was a longtime civil rights activist. He is accompanied on this five-track, 36-minute opus by a cast of assenting musicians including singer Abbey Lincoln, tenor saxophonists Coleman Hawkins and Walter Benton, trumpeter Booker Little (a teenaged Roach protégé), trombonist Julian Priester, bassist James Schenck, conguero Babatunde Olatunji, and percussionists Ray Mantilla and Tomas DuVall.

The suite is divided into sections: "Driva' Man" and "Freedom Day" (both with lyrics by Oscar Brown, Jr.) are set during the Civil War -- although the latter makes room for future struggle. "Triptych" is a three-section duet by Lincoln and Roach rooted in the present-day struggle at home, while the final two movements, "All Africa" and "Tears for Johannesburg," reflect the fight for equality on the African continent.

"Driva' Man" commences with Lincoln singing Brown's lyrics as a deep blues, accompanied only by intermittent snare. The horns enter along with Schenk. Hawkins delivers an uncharacteristically gritty, almost guttural, angular solo, instrumentally expressing the blues sung by Lincoln to highlight the harsh realities and indignity endured by Black people since slavery. "Freedom Day" offers the three-horn frontline introducing Lincoln with a hard bop vamp. Little claims the foreground with a commanding solo rooted in color and sorrowful melodic invention, followed by impressive solos from Benton, Priester, and Roach. "Triptych: Prayer/Protest/Peace" is a centerpiece duet between the drummer and Lincoln, and one of the most abstract tunes either artist ever cut. She intones wordlessly before the intensity ratchets, and begins screaming to meet the drummer's frenetic rolls, fills, and accents before coming full circle. Lincoln sings Brown's words again on "All Africa," driven by Olatunji and the other percussionists. The lyric "It began with a beat and a hum" introduces an exposition on Black music and culture's central place in the development of history and civilization. Roach's closer "Tears for Johannesburg" also offers bluesy, wordless singing from Lincoln. Driven by the composer's and Schenk's taut vamps, the frontline horns meld Latin and African folk music, modal jazz, hard bop, and even classical music in a swinging, incantatory flow underscored by fluid, fiery improvising from Roach and the percussionists.

Despite its rather rudimentary recording quality, the music on We Insist! remains urgent, relevant, and provocative. Its assertion that freedom and equality are necessary for society to function and thrive resonates as poignantly and intensely amid the global civil rights struggles of the 21st century as it did in the 20th." -All Music Guide

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