The Free Slave



This reissue captures Detroit legend Roy Brooks leading a quintet through a heated set for Baltimore's Left Bank Jazz Society on April 26, 1970, one of those inspired conferences of post-bop heavies -- Woody Shaw, trumpet; George Coleman, tenor sax; Hugh Lawson, piano; Cecil McBee, bass and Brooks, drums -- which seemed so common back then and which sounds so exceptional still.

The set is a varied quartet of originals, opening with the Brooks-penned title cut, the kind of funky period piece with just enough ingenuity in its structure to keep the players interested. Coleman, in fact, sounds more than interested. Anyone who's familiar with Miles in Europe or Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage knows how deep this guy's playing can cut, how unleashed his ostensibly cool but protean style can get. Here and on another Brooks composition, "The Understanding," he combines a razor-sharp and always subtle rhythmic sense with lunges into appropriately outré shadings.

Meanwhile, Shaw is all muscular scrabbling, the master of the closely argued solo, an intellectual player who likes to raise his voice to rude levels. Lawson isn't quite as singular a stylist as these two -- and the piano sounds like it's had a few -- though on McBee's "Will Pan's Walk" he gets to show off his probing agility. The bassist also gets a couple of feature spots, articulating an approach which doesn't so much transcend the instrument's limitations as deny them. And Brooks holds everything together, an aggressive drummer who's also a good listener, one who knows when to drive and when to ride. Another night on the job, another minor classic.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.