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Roy Haynes: Fountain of Youth

Roy Haynes
Fountain of Youth

Jazz on Record (1967), edited by Albert McCarthy, et al. is not a big book, but has some of the best writing on the 50 years of recordings.

There’s a full entry on Roy Haynes, which states explicitly that his exceptional gifts were just those most likely to result in his being overlooked in any such survey. I dug out my copy of a much-loved album when I heard Steve Lacy had died, and read Nat Hentoff’s footnote in praise of Roy Haynes. George Wein’s memoir accompanying the Newport Jazz Festival 50th birthday set almost endows Mr. Wein with the title of leading Roy Haynes bore (one of the least shameful titles to bear).

Haynes calls his music “Hard Swing”. On this live set with his working band, the opener “Greensleeves” is pretty good, with Marcus Strickland leading in on bass clarinet. Subsequently he tunes in on soprano to some of the potential this tune retains beyond what John Coltrane previously realised. John Sullivan performs a remarkable meditation on bowed bass before applying his fingers to turn the performance into its conclusion.

Sensitive power drumming distinguishes “Trinkle Tinkle”, one of three Monk tunes on the near enough seventy-two minute nine-track set. These guys can all play, and it’s not just the drumming which distinguishes the second track. Strickland is a genuine Monk player;the pianist has a nice knack of turning the odder harmonies into a pattern against the flow of the music, thus setting up a contraflow and creating new ripples and vibrations. Haynes conjures amazing rhythmic figures from the original material.

He has a high old noisy time too on “Summer Night”, which develops a fair charge from a more balladic start: upbeat rather than uptempo. The soprano playing is pretty good, but hear the ensemble as the leader interacts with the pianist in climax-building accompaniment.

If it was impossible quite to match “Trinkle Tinkle” the (next) best thing was to drive ahead with something at least comparably striking. I don’t suppose there was any deliberate intention to echo either the Trane Quartet or an Elvin Jones Jazz Machine when this set was played live at Birdland in early December 2002. They can’t be got out of the background if you ever heard either, and the recollection doesn’t diminish the present experience.

After a lengthy balladic lead-in by the pianist, Strickland’s light tenor sound is well displayed on the nearly nine-minute treatment of Monk’s “Ask Me Now” as a ballad. Hanes’s tender brushwork is well deserved by a piano solo which pays proper attention to the melody. After the glide into a bass solo which develops a tuneful line the pianist stays there prompting, donating. The tenorist resumes with a Coltranean sense of melody, and plays a nice unaccompanied coda, which ends in some impressionist atmospherics from the rhythm trio.

I suppose it’s inevitable to wonder quite what sort or quality of group a drummer of Roy Haynes’s venerable stature might have assembled. He has had big jazz names on later studio visits bearing his name, but these youngsters hitherto unknown to me are definitely post-doctoral. Amazing, and he gives them real opportunities. Roy Haynes was just as good as they were when he was their age (he’s only 79 now). This is not common, I mean anybody being quite so potently capable.

What counts is the music, and they can’t be all that bad without him, however singular his inspiration and direction.

The downright swing style opening of “Butch and Butch” establishes a melodic direction even as the harmonic ground of the performance becomes more complex. Weary as I am of keyboard mannerisms which might be called PostTynerisms if it was (as it isn’t) McCoy’s fault, I could go and have gone into raptures over the freedom from them here. No irrelevant arabesques, a sustained forward swing all through.

Marcus Strickland knows the older tenor saxophone vocabulary and tonal range, while the rock-steady Sullivan and the drummer maintain a mellow steady propulsion behind the extended piano solo on Dave Kikoski’s “Inner Trust”. The drummer and the pianist are full of ideas, and the soprano saxophone solo is continuously lifted by the responsiveness and stimulation under and around it. Haynes has great tact, which ought to imply he knows how to say what he has to say. His drum solo on the Kikoski composition implies variations in pace and tension, and these carry over into the conclusion of this lengthy and magnificently sustained performance, the surging forward and the sighing back.

More of something similar seems to be implicit in Monk’s (I think) relatively late composition “Green Chimneys”, a shifting of direction, a happy fluctuation. Strickland’s tenor can be drivingly incisive, or silky. He has a considerable workout on this third Monk tune, with the rhythm section now and then suggesting some of the different directions, and dropping out after a fearsome forward charge — to give Strickland an unaccompanied further investigation of the music. His sign-off lays some clues for the pianist, who obliges — a player whose sound isn’t hard — by exploring some of the considerable rhythmic implications of Monk’s compressed original. He too has his unaccompanied passage, of two-handed interaction, until the drummer inputs even more accents. Either the performance is taken over by another band in a parallel universe, or some infinite is reached. The performance vanishes in audience applause. I was waiting for something else to happen, but suddenly fleet and light stickwork took up Irving Berlin’s “Remember” and the tenorist was off sounding (as initially on “Ask Me Now”) a lot like Benny Golson — which he still does, coming back in after a bass solo. This is a jamming band in which nobody need be confined to one solo per tune. “Green Chimneys” is taken out with a lengthy succession of trading passages between the drummer and the pianist, and drummer and the tenorist, and… there’s a very happy rideout.

Pat Metheny’s “Question and Answer”, the closer, starts with a drum solo. The others come in, Strickland on soprano, in a style of performance very much that of the classic Coltrane quartet, of which Roy Haynes was an occasional member subbing for Elvin Jones. Examples of Roy with his great fan Trane are especially cherished, because rarer. They also demonstrate how much difference one very great drummer can make in comparison with one of the very few others.

Martin Bejerano’s distinction as well as distinctiveness are the clearer too for hearing him in a setting (of both repertoire and instrumentation) which brings to mind the distinctive over-imitated Tyner. The soprano solo is a little mellower than Trane. though bearing signs of influence.

This is a wonderful extension to a hugely impressive discography.