Max Roach: We Insist! – Freedom Now Suite

The drummer's anguished civil-rights inspired 1960 set with Abbey Lincoln reappears remastered on 180-gram vinyl


The sit-ins in the early 1960s were eagerly embraced by drummer Max Roach, long a campaigner for civil rights for black people and emotionally involved with the call for full integration in the USA and autonomy in Africa. He linked up with singer and composer Oscar Brown Jr. to produce a long work to be performed on the centennial of the emancipation proclamation.

This record, made for the forward looking but sadly short-lived Candid label, was well received in jazz circles and with black folks everywhere but it did nothing for Roach’s career at the time. He was blacklisted by record companies and clubs and found it difficult to get work for some while.

The suite begins with Driva Man, where Abbey Lincoln’s powerful and emotive vocal is accompanied by a strong Coleman Hawkins tenor sax solo and background harmony from Little and Priester. Roach begins with a single drum note repeated throughout the vocal until the tenor solo when he proceeds with rhythm drum backing.

Freedom Day follows. Fully charged solos are heard with Booker Little on great form as he plays with a big, brass sound and fashions a telling solo. His stabbing blue notes paint a vivid picture of the mood Roach and Brown were creating. Equally forceful and hardly lacking in passion are the follow-on solos by Walter Benson’s tenor sax and Julian Priester’s trombone. Max concludes with an electrifying drum solo.

The triptych of Prayer, Protest and Peace is equally intense, with Abbey’s voice in turn prayerful, hysterical and finally subdued. This track is played by just voice and Max’s drums. All Africa and Tears For Johannesburg feature a percussion threesome and Roach. They provide a rhythmic maelstrom as trumpet, trombone and tenor sax interweave passionate solos.

This is powerful stuff, not for the faint hearted but with plenty of stirring jazz solos and vocals. Sadly, the innovative Candid label was dropped when parent company Cadence Records pulled the financial plug. It’s good to have this one back though, dressed in its original artwork and remastered on 180-gram vinyl.

Driva Man; Freedom Day; Triptych: Prayer, Protest, Peace; All Africa; Tears For Johannesburg (36.43)
Abbey Lincoln (v); Booker Little (t); Coleman Hawkins, Walter Booker (ts); Julian Priester (tb); James Schenk (b); Raymond Mantillo, Tomas DuVall, Olatunji (pc); Max Roach (d). NYC, 31 August & 6 September 1960.
Candid CLP 30021