One of the great jazz documents of the Civil Rights Movement is Max Roach’s We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, featuring Roach’s powerful drumming, lyrics by the great Oscar Brown, Jr., a surprising and scintillating appearance by grand ol’ man Coleman Hawkins, and the defiant vocals of Roach’s then-wife, Abbey Lincoln. Recorded in 1960, it’s an essential listening experience for observers of Black History Month (personally, I make it a year-long occasion).
Less well-known is Lincoln’s Straight Ahead, a kind of sequel to We Insist! released in 1961, with Roach back in the drummer’s chair, and blazing support from the dynamic duo of Booker Little on trumpet and Eric Dolphy on his magic reeds. Also, Hawkins is again present, and jazz fans will recognize that the names Mal Waldron, Art Davis, and Julian Priester further ensure a very high performance level. Straight Ahead is less explicit than its predecessor; also, its tone is more celebratory, with adaptation of pieces by Harlem Renaissance stalwarts Paul Lawrence Dunbar and Langston Hughes shining brightly. Lincoln also sings the heck out of “Blue Monk,” for which she provides lyrics. However, the record ends on an appropriately steely note, with Lincoln’s own “Restribution.” All in all, it might be my favorite record by a singer who merits a reintroduction to the listening public.
Carnival continued at the Overeem abode with the Young Tuxedo Brass Band’s Jazz Begins, recorded on the streets of New Orleans by Atlantic Records in 1959. Kudos to my friend Paul Howe for putting it in my ear-line!