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Great excitement followed the announcement that trumpeter Clifford Brown was joining forces with drummer Max Roach in 1954. Bebop royalty, Roach had made his bones alongside Charlie Parker and took part in the epic Jazz at Massey Hall concert with Bird, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell and Charles Mingus. Brown, six years Roach’s junior, had created a stir with Gigi Gryce, Art Blakey and J.J. Johnson, among others.
The Brown/Roach quintet was a fixture at Basin Street, the 51st Street club that lends this early-1956 session its title. Brown was joined on the frontline by a 26-year-old tenor player named Sonny Rollins. Bud Powell’s younger brother, Richie, occupied the piano seat and provided a few original compositions, while bassist George Morrow supplied the caffeinated pulse. Bebop was still the lingua franca — Bird had passed just about a year before — but these players were also heralding a new brand of rhythm-centric jazz that came to be known as hard bop.
From the drop, Roach drives the ensemble at breakneck pace, kicking over the traces on a jumping rendition of “What Is This Thing Called Love,” which features stirring solos from everyone following Brownie’s fiery first foray. His intensity is more than matched by Roach’s muscular solo, which launches a spirited chase between Brownie and Sonny. The quintet keeps flags snapping with romps through songbook standards “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing” and “I’ll Remember April,” the latter featuring a tantalizing Afro-Latin groove. They ease off the gas with a laid-back lope through Benny Golson’s “Step Lightly (Junior’s Arrival),” but the pedal returns to the metal on “Powell’s Prances,” one of three tunes penned by the session’s pianist.
This was to be the last of the group's albums. In June of 1956, Brown and Powell died in a car crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Brown was 25, Powell was 24. Brownie’s impact on Roach proved profound, and it’s no surprise that the drummer recorded versions of Golson’s “I Remember Clifford ” — which he most certainly did until his passing in 2007. — Bob Weinberg