The Free Slave

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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.

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