Clifford Brown with Strings

Clifford Brown & Max Roach – 1955

Clifford Brown’s 1955 remains one of the greatest and hardest-working achievements in musical history. Aside from his own records with Max Roach, he made important contributions to albums by Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan and Helen Merrill. Sadly, his untimely death in a car accident the following year ended the young trumpeter’s career. Here are three documents of his undying greatness.

Clifford Brown with Strings

Clifford Brown with Strings.jpg

Artist: Clifford Brown

Genre: Bebop

Grade: A

The trumpet can be such a loud instrument sometimes, but Clifford Brown with Strings is a beautiful reminder of just how soothing it can be. Abandoning hard bop for a lush, orchestral bebop swing, Brown retreads into the past instead of charting jazz’s future. Yet it makes for one of his most original — and most unlikely — LPs. The throwback sound works perfectly with the orchestra, which is never flashy and always complementary. Brown leads with precision and control; also never flashy but always exemplary.

Brown and Roach Incorporated

Brown and Roach Incorporated.jpg

Artist: Clifford Brown & Max Roach

Genre: Hard Bop

Grade: A-

Every LP released by the duo of Clifford Brown & Max Roach is worth owning, and essential to any serious jazz collection. Nevertheless, Brown and Roach Incorporated somewhat gets lost in the shuffle. Aside from the opening “Sweet Clifford” and the drum set showcase “Mildama,” all of the songs are popular standards. Yet the playing finds the quintet at its most relaxed, and the arrangements their most democratic.

Pianist Richie Powell gets his own showcase on the beautiful “I’ll String Along With You,” while tenor saxophonist Harold Land contributes several memorable solos. Without Brown there is no Roach, but there is no Clifford Brown & Max Roach without Land and Powell (and bassist George Morrow).

Study in Brown

Study in Brown.jpg

Artist: Clifford Brown & Max Roach

Genre: Hard Bop

Grade: A

While Max Roach may have been the driving force behind the duo’s debut, Study in Brown finds its namesake, Clifford Brown, taking the keys to the Ferrari and going out for a legendary joy ride. The trumpet is his vehicle, and he’s cruising at 110 mph on “Cherokee.” Perhaps the greatest jazz solo of all time.

The rest of the album follows hot on the opener’s heels: “Swingin’” is the hardest of hard bop, “Jacqui” is cool and breezy, and “George’s Dilemma” finds the rhythm section propelled by a raga motorik beat that predates Coltrane by half a decade. While not as immediate as its predecessor, Study in Brown remains one of the defining works of early ‘50s jazz.


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