Max Roach: We Insist! Freedom Now Suite

The drummer's politically charged, possibly essential 1960 suite with Coleman Hawkins and Abbey Lincoln is reissued on 180g vinyl


A ground-breaking masterpiece of political music composed by one of the greatest drummers in all of jazz, Roach’s We Insist! of 1960 is presented here in LP format by Jazz Wax Records. Excellent sound, on 180g vinyl, is complemented by the original artwork and Nat Hentoff’s initial sleeve note. There is also a characterisation of the music from John Fordham, plus the bonus track Oh Yeah, Oh Yeah, a brightly sprung, gospel-inflected piece by Kenny Dorham with Roach on board.

I say “ground-breaking” but of course this incendiary album, which very much has its own identity, was recorded a couple of years after Sonny Rollins’s The Freedom Suite trio session, with Roach and bassist Oscar Pettiford. For all its own distinctive musical character, Rollins’s work was – and remains – politically at one with the later We Insist!

As John Chilton documents in his The Song Of The Hawk, Coleman Hawkins was not big on the idea of mixing jazz and politics. But he’s here on the opening Driva Man. His potent, sometimes bluntly hewn phrases complement Abbey Lincoln’s take on Oscar Brown Jr.’ s critique of the obscenities of slavery. The burning, affirmative clip of the following Freedom Day has terrific work from Lincoln, Little, Benton and Priester as well as a typically majestic, multi-planed solo from Roach.

Side A concludes with Triptych. Now reflective, now searing, it’s the core of the album. Post-Strange Fruit vocalese-and-percussion from Lincoln and Roach conjures the sort of keening spiritual, political and emotional aura which Dianne Reeves revisited on her Art And Survival of 1994.

With further lyrics from Brown, added vocals from Yoruba percussionist Olatungi and more cross-rhythmic richness in the majestic modal mix, Side B pays multivalent homage to the emergent, contemporary identity of Africa. It also, in Tears For Johannesburg, addresses the continuing horrors suffered by so many of its people.

As relevant and rewarding today as it was all those years ago, We Insist! belongs in every serious jazz enthusiast’s collection.

(1) Driva Man; (2) Freedom Day; (3) Triptych: Prayer / Protest / Peace (19.38) – (4) All Africa; Tears For Johannesburg; (5) Oh Yeah, Oh Yeah (24.44 )
(1) Roach (d, leader); Abbey Lincoln (v); Booker Little (t); Julian Priester (tb); Walter Benton, Coleman Hawkins (ts); James Schenck (b). New York, 31 August 1960.
(2) as (1) but Hawkins out.
(3) as (1) but only Lincoln (v); Roach (d).
(4) as (2) plus Michael Olatunji (cga, v); Ray Mantilla, Tomas DuVall (pc). New York, 6 September 1960.
(5) Kenny Dorham, Benny Bailey (t); Priester (tb); Benton (ts); Cecil Payne (bar); Peck Morrison (b); Max Roach (d). New York, 1 November 1960.
Jazz Wax Records JWR 4605