Max Roach and Dizzy Gillespie – Max + Dizzy, Paris (1990)

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NICK DERISO: What an enveloping, unforgettable experience: Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and drummer Max Roach, then bop’s most visible surviving pioneers, performing as a duo in a completely improvised concert.

Neither had ever recorded a more free-form album, yet still there remains a deep affection for what came before — and what a treasure it was, what came before.

Fifty years of brilliant recordings do indeed peek out — you’ll hear bits of “Salt Peanuts,” “‘Round Midnight” and “Oo Pa Pa Da,” for instance — but this isn’t so much a series of clearly defined tunes as a larger conversation. We have here 90 minutes of creativity, and sheer delight. Not least of which is a nearly 33-minute talk between these two jazz greats, the closing track on “Max + Dizzy.”

They’d actually discussed rehearsing, had even gotten a room in New York to do it. Instead they used the time to talk about music, about Bird, and Bud Powell, and so on.

They ultimately appeared alone together on March 23, 1989 in the Parisian suburb of Bobigny. Roach arrived still regal and respected, while Gillespie had perhaps taken joie de virve to the point where he was largely considered in caricature.

Not after this one.

On the way over, in the limo, they discussed a few possible riffs. But not one note had been played before they arrived on stage.

What follows is a performance of startling warmth and intelligence. That it occurred during a time that wasn’t particularly creative for Gillespie, the lion in winter, made it all the better.

Roach’s still-sizzling drum work sometimes pushed the then-71-year-old Diz into places where he perhaps shouldn’t boldly go. But he does, providing a deft rebuttal to other contemporary albums that saw Gillespie move into the role of Kindly Ambassador.

His CDs (like say “Live at Royal Festival Hall,” recorded just three months later) were increasingly becoming more souvenir than true performance. After a career built on eye-popping innovation, had the great Gillespie (who the original liner notes aptly refer to as “the closest to a guru as you’ll find in New Jersey”) become a keepsake?

This A&M release roared back, resoundingly: No.

“Nairobi” is a high point, as the then-65-year-old Roach’s elastic rhythm-making elicits in Gillespie some of his most adventurous, yet still very considered and precise, late-period playing.

Generous both in its double-disc length (23 tracks, not counting the interview) and in its camaraderie, “Max + Dizzy” is a record that codifies these two men’s past even while it brings us to a new place in understanding what made them great.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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