Vinyl Spotlight: Clifford Brown & Max Roach, Sweet Clifford (EmArcy EP-1-6112) Original 45 RPM 7″ EP

Original 45 RPM 7″ pressing circa 1955
Recorded August 3, 1954 at Capitol Studios, Los Angeles

Selection: “Sweet Clifford” (Brown)

My relationship with the full-length album that contains this EP, Brown & Roach Incorporated, began very early on in my collecting years. I would have initially ripped the album from a CD checked out from the library and now I own that CD, which is the ‘official’ PolyGram U.S. reissue released sometime in the late ’80s (the internet doesn’t seem to know exactly when and there’s no copyright on the packaging nor the disc).

PolyGram CD reissue of Brown & Roach Incorporated

Brown & Roach Incorporated is part of a triumvirate of EmArcy LPs, the majority of the tracks being recorded during the summer of 1954 at Capitol Studios in L.A. Brown and co-leader Max Roach were also busy recording even more material at Capitol that summer, a couple sessions for Pacific Jazz and one with singer Dinah Washington, also for EmArcy. Brownie was back in New York the following winter, recording Clifford Brown with Strings as well as the Sarah Vaughan and Helen Merrill vocal albums. Then in February ’55 Brown and Roach met up again in L.A. to record for EmArcy. Though the takes for Brown & Roach Incorporated had been finished since August, it was then that they wrapped work on Clifford Brown and Max Roach and Study in Brown.

These are outstanding recordings that are rightly in the canon of jazz classics. Each band member cuts through the mix with warmth and clarity. While Study in Brown is hands down my favorite album of the three, “Sweet Clifford” is probably my favorite track. Roach sets a blistering pace, a trademark of his that one might assume was partly an aesthetic choice, but also a matter of the drummer flexing a high level of mastery that could very well have been possessed by him alone at the time. It’s not every day that jazz fans get to hear a drummer keep rock-solid time at 350 beats per minute all while adding a sizable dose of creative and technical flair (Tony Williams also comes to mind). Harold Land jumps in first, but then we get from Clifford Brown what I consider one of the most inventive and interesting solos I have ever heard. Experts often tout that great soloists tell a story, and this essay penned by Brownie surely get an A+. The most memorable moment comes at the fifth chorus marker when Brown creates a rhythmically complex yet technically proficient descending-ascending pattern, modulating down at the second pass, then coming out on the other end with a spattering of notes that can’t help but sound like the trumpeter chuckling as the competition stares slack-jawed at what just happened. Closing out the tune is a two-minute drum solo from Roach. No doubt Roach gets busy here and the recording of his kit is indeed a treat, but if I’m being honest I’ve never been the biggest fan of extended drum solos on record.

As for this particular copy of the EP, the “Ghost of a Chance” side is a little beat up but luckily the flip sounds clear and dynamic. It was a cheap enough find at a local shop, and with such a great photo of Brownie on the cover with the lettering of his name in a period-correct jumble, this happenstance pickup is a real treat.