A Foolhardy Endeavour Pt.3

Max Roach - M'Boom - front cover

So, we come to the jazz…

98. Max Roach – M’Boom (1980)

Not just jazz, but jazz from the bloody eighties. Sort of jazz anyway, and recorded in 1979 if that helps. This is credited to Max Roach, who formed the M’Boom ‘re:percussion ensemble’ around 1970, but it’s very much a group work. The ensemble features a bunch of experienced drummer-percussionists – Roy Brooks, Freddie Waits, Joe Chambers, Ray Mantilla etc – whose extensive CVs are summarised on the back. Before you run away with thoughts of endless soloing, this is an album of tunes, using “more than 100 different instruments of determinate and indeterminate pitch”, which means a whole lot of marimba, vibes, xylophones, timpani, gongs, bells, and pretty much every instrument you can bang on. Banged on by men who really know how to bang on shit.

My discovery of this album is somewhat bittersweet: I got it for a couple of quid at Rhythm Records (once the only good reason to visit Camden), where it was reduced because they were closing down. Now usually when something’s that cheap, even in a sale, it’s for good reason, but I took a chance on it because I knew about some of the players and I like music that clangs and bangs. At the very least I figured it might have something I could sample for a track I’d never finish.

Upon getting it home, I discovered it delivered far beyond merely being OK. Alright, so my girlfriend at the time did say the (great) opening track ‘Onomatopoeia’ sounded like it was “written for some dodgy modern interpretive dance” and lo and behold, when I looked it up on YouTube recently, this was the first thing I found. However, there’s a lot more going on here. The beautiful Mingus tribute ‘January V’ (which later appeared on Four Tet’s edition of the Late Night Tales series) is all vibes, chimes and marimba, and might come across to contemporary ears like something from the late nineties Chicago branch of post-rock, except better and more emotionally charged than that. And closer ‘Kujichagalia’ rides on a killer funk rhythm, led by steel drums and snares, backed up with woodblocks, cowbells and assorted African instruments.

The first M’Boom album from 1973 really is rare as fuck, but this one can often be found for way less than it’s worth (to me at least); while record digging in Massachusetts last year, I practically forced John Twells to pick it up for a paltry $3-4. I hope he’s played it*.

“For fans of”: Steve Reich, Tortoise, Konono Nº1, gamelan, and, er, Parasol Trap

*update from John: apparently he has played it, DJed with it and made others buy it. So there, I’m not alone.

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