Understanding, a blazing 1970 concert recording featuring the Detroit-born master percussionist Roy Brooks leading a gifted quintet through its spirited paces at Baltimore’s Famous Ballroom, will be released by Cellar Music Group's archival imprint, Reel to Real Recordings on July 17 as a limited edition 3 LP set exclusively at independent record stores for Record Store Day and as on 2 CDs/digital on July 23.
Comprising more than two hours of expansive performances averaging 20 minutes in length, the potent date was recorded by Left Bank Jazz Society and stars trumpeter Woody Shaw, tenor saxophonist Carlos Garnett, pianist Harold Mabern, and bassist Cecil McBee.
All proceeds from the release — produced with the cooperation of McBee and Garnett and the estates of Brooks, Mabern, and Shaw — will go directly to the Detroit Sound Conservancy, a non-profit organization founded in 2012 and devoted to the preservation, education, conservation, and place keeping of the Motor City’s musical heritage.
Born in 1938, Roy Brooks is perhaps best known as a sideman. He spent five years with pianist Horace Silver’s storied hard bop combo, appearing on the popular Song for My Father, and also worked behind Chet Baker, Yusef Lateef, and Charles Mingus, and alongside Max Roach in the percussion ensemble M’Boom.
Beyond his formidable, gale-force attack on the traps, Brooks — who died in his hometown in 2005 — delighted audiences with flights on the musical saw (heard on the present recording) and even invented a device, the “breath-a-tone,” with which he could change the pitch of his drums as he played. Sadly, the musician’s career was thrown off track in later years by severe mental illness. But the Famous Ballroom date displays him at the height of his considerable powers.
In his comprehensive liner notes for the collection, historian Mark Stryker, author of Jazz from Detroit (University of Michigan Press, 2019), writes that Understanding “shines a long-overdue spotlight on Brooks. A product of Detroit’s mid-century jazz explosion, Brooks was a deeply swinging drummer of uncommon creativity, flexibility, fire and conceptual imagination.”
Led off by a 42-minute performance encompassing the Brooks-composed prelude and title track, Understanding roars through compositions by Shaw (“Zoltan,” first heard on organist Larry Young’s 1965 classic Unity) and Garnett (“Taurus Woman”) and a furious take on Charlie Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce” before an involved, vocal audience. Projected at a fever pitch, the music operates on the cusp between the ‘60s quintet innovations of Miles Davis (whose “The Theme” closes the gig) and the free-form explorations of John Coltrane and his acolytes.
Understanding is filled out by intimate written remembrances by a pair of Brooks’ classmates at Detroit’s Northwestern High School, journalist Herb Boyd and alto saxophonist Charles McPherson.
1. Introduction 00:25
2. Prelude To Understanding 21:34
3. Understanding 20:10
4. Billie's Bounce 21:06
5. Zoltan 23:18
6. Taurus Woman 32:25
7. The Theme 04:31
Roy Brooks – drums
Carlos Garnett – tenor saxophone
Woody Shaw - trumpet
Harold Mabern – piano
Cecil McBee – bass
Recorded Live at The Famous Ballroom in Baltimore, MD on November 1, 1970
Produced for release by CORY WEEDS and ZEV FELDMAN
Executive Producer: RAYMON TORCHINKSY
Associate Producer: RAYMON TORCHINKSY and JOHN FOWLER
Project Assistance: ZAK SHELBY-SZYSZKO
Sound Restoration by CHRIS GESTRIN
Original Recording Engineer: VERNON WELSH
Cover Photo by BOB CRAWFORD
Art Direction and design: JOHN SELLARDS
Album Package Editor: SHARON MCINNIS
Production Manager: CORY WEEDS
Photo Research: ZEV FELDMAN and CORY WEEDS
Extra special thanks to Carlos Garnett, Cecil McBee and Raheem Brooks.
Dedicated to the memories of Roy Brooks, Woody Shaw and Harold Mabern