Max Roach: Members, Don’t Git Weary

The drummer's 1968 album with Gary Bartz, Charles Tolliver, Stanley Cowell and Jymie Merritt is reissued on vinyl with new artwork and text

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This has long been one of my favourite Roach albums. We’re told the 180-gram black vinyl LP is part of a “selected reissue” programme taken from the Warner Atlantic Records archive and “curated by Gilles Peterson”. Well done, Gilles – but what happened to the word “selected”?

The original impressionistic sleeve-note from Ed Williams is reproduced on the back cover while inside, a handsome fold-out has new and informative contributions from band members Gary Bartz (as) and Charles Tolliver (t), the latter having just taken over the trumpet chair from Freddie Hubbard. There is a useful overview of the subsequent collaboration of Tolliver and Stanley Cowell (p) that led to the founding of Strata East Records in 1971 and the fold-out also features superb colour and black and white portrait shots of Roach, plus 36 colour proof-strip shots of him in New York’s Central Park (where the original front cover colour was shot and which is used again here).

As for the music: as the inner sleeve has it, at a time of political and artistic ferment in America, the album “burns intensely with a ferocious determination and energy pushed on by an exemplary band”, offering “a broiling cocktail of modal and post-bop sounds that prefigures the Afro-conscious spiritual jazz that would evolve further across the next decade.”

Hear the relaxed yet popping funk of the opening Abstrutions from Cowell – a fine post-Tyner player who contributes three characterful compositions. Ride on the building bittersweet potency of Bartz’s lines on his Libra and thrill to the searing, practically savage power of Roach’s solo figures on this hard-bop burn-up. Drink in the affirmative depths of the spirituals-fed rubato title track, featuring vocalist Andy Bey, and relish the lyrical, rolling figures of the proto-fusion Equipoise – a lovely Cowell piece that would later appear on the debut album from Roy Haynes’s Hip Ensemble. And imagine how the brooding potency of the concluding Absolutions by electric bassist Jymie Merritt – who contributed the classic Nommo to Roach’s majestic 1966 Drums Unlimited – might have sounded to Miles Davis. Unmissable!

Discography
Abstrutions; Libra; Effie (15.44) – Equipoise; Members, Don’t Git Weary; Absolutions (16.28)
Roach (d); Gary Bartz (as); Charles Tolliver (t); Stanley Cowell (p); Jymie Merritt (elb). New York, June 1968.
ARC 005 /ARC Records SD 1510