Roy Brooks – Understanding – Reel to Real

by | Jul 30, 2021 | Jazz CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

A blistering live set from the Roy Brooks Quintet…

Roy Brooks – Understanding – Reel to Real RTR-LP-007 – Three audiophile 180 gm vinyls – 1970 – ****

(Roy Brooks – drums; Woody Shaw – trumpet; Carlos Garnett- tenor sax; Harold Mabern – piano; Cecil McBee – bass)

Jazz drummer Roy Brooks has never received the acclaim that he is due. He had extensive time with groups of Horace Silver, Yusef Lateef, James Moody, among others. He was in Max Roach’s ensemble, M’Boom, and served as Charlie Mingus’ drummer in 1972-73. Later in life, mental health issues arose, and he passed away in November, 2005.

Roy’s stature will surely be enhanced by a blistering live session from 1970, Understanding, that is being issued now on Reel to Real Recordings, a boutique label specializing in releasing live recordings, featuring iconic jazz artists. Unlike some other recordings made at Baltimore’s Famous Ballroom that had somewhat muddy acoustics, this concert from Brooks, with a super star group, checks all the boxes with superb acoustics. The original tape reels have been majestically remastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio, and pressed on 180 gm vinyl. Released in partnership with Brook’s estate, this is pedal to the metal, prime post bop with avant leanings.

Brooks group consists of a young Woody Shaw; tenor saxist, Carlos Garnett; pianist Harold Mabern (who is more known for more straight ahead jazz settings); and bassist Cecil McBee, who definitely fit right in here. Recorded at the time period when the Strata East label (owned by Charles Tolliver and Stanley Cowell) brought in albums featuring post bop, spiritual and Afro Jazz, Brooks’ quintet would have fit the bill. In addition to opening comments and the closer, “The Theme,” the five main tracks exceed 20 minutes, with Garnett’s “Taurus Woman” clocking in at 32:26.

The commonality is a no holds bar free exchange of raw power from Shaw and Garnett, propelled by Brooks’ traps, like a horse jockey pushing his horse towards the finish line. There is an energy compared to that of Miles Davis’ late sixties and early seventies groups, mated with Coltrane’s spiritual period. It’s ferocious music, and listening today with social issues rising again to a crescendo of anger, this album is most relevant, over a half century later.

Brooks’ composition, “Prelude to Understanding” opens the concert. Woody Shaw gets an eleven minute solo, and the audience knew they were in for a wild ride. Brooks channels Elvin Jones in double time. The fire breathing group totally tears apart, and reconstructs Charlie Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce.”

On Woody Shaw’s “Zoltan,” better known five years earlier on organist, Larry Young’s Unity, Shaw again shines, spurred on by Harold Mabern’s choruses. Led by Carlos Garnett on his track, “Taurus Woman,” Brooks and Company almost go off the rails. As on a roller coaster, it’s a hold on tight half- hour.

In addition to six sides of take no prisoners exuberance, this LP set is enhanced by a fabulous set of liner notes, with an essay from Detroit jazz historian, Mark Stryker. There are printed interviews with surviving band members, Garnett and McBee. Also Louis Hayes, Reggie Workman, and Charles McPherson give their due to the Brooks’ quintet.

This vinyl set is limited to only 2000 pressings, presented on the latest Record Store Day. All proceeds will benefit the Detroit Sound Conservancy, a non-profit set up to preserve and honor Detroit, the home town of Brooks, still a vibrant center for jazz. There is also a 2 CD version being issued.

Side A: Prelude to Understanding (22:08)
Side B: Understanding (20:12)
Side C: Billie’s Bounce (21:04)
Side D: Zoltan (23:20)
Side E: Taurus Woman (17:09)
Side F: Taurus Woman (conclusion) (15:15); The Theme (4:28)

—Jeff Krow

For more information, please visit vendor Record Store Day website:

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Roy Brooks Understanding, Album Cover


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