First, this is NOT a complete collection of Max Roach’s Black Saint and Soul Note recordings, but only half of them. Missing are four he made with the working group that featured trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater and saxophonist Odean Pope and two collaborations with string quartets. What we have here are another two string quartet collaborations (Survivors and Bright Moments), three discs devoted to duos with reedplayer Anthony Braxton and pianist Cecil Taylor and one by the percussion ensemble M’Boom. A glance at Roach’s discography shows that he became more and more interested in settings other than standard combos as time went on. His involvement with M’Boom, which began in 1970 and spanned nearly a quarter-century, is central to this. The group’s personnel retained a consistent core, even as it expanded from a septet on early recordings to the ten-piece ensemble we hear on Collage in this set. The tendency of this larger group is to rely more on the melodic instruments of the xylophone/marimba family and less on drums of various sorts and the result is often simple, repetitive themes akin to classical minimalism. The odd thing is that setting up counter-rhythms or working out of variations in unusual time signatures (as on “Mr. Seven” here) actually sounds less complex if the repeated figures have melodic context. Because of this, one suspects that many jazz listeners might prefer some of M’Boom’s earlier records. The 1978 meeting with Braxton, Birth And Rebirth, is a resounding success. Braxton’s respect for Roach is obvious, but as events unfold both musicians just relax into letting things flow, with results that are always engaging and often very beautiful. Roach had, of course, been involved with the avant garde from the bebop era through Monk, Herbie Nichols, Hasaan Ibn Ali, Booker Little and Eric Dolphy, so Braxton would hardly have scared him. For Braxton’s part, he not only was conversant with bop but also can sound remarkably like Roach’s early boss Benny Carter when he waxes lyrical. In any case, it’s a great fit. Historic Concerts with Taylor fills two records and the resulting music is more demanding but no less rewarding. Since the pianist is less flexible than Braxton, Roach has to do more than meet him halfway and does so with various strategies. Sometimes Roach lays down a percussive barrage on the trapset that sounds superficially like what someone like Andrew Cyrille might play, but even casual listening shows how different it really is. Just as often, he decides not to follow but to set up something completely different, relating to Taylor’s percussive approach somewhat as he would to the counter-rhythmic currents of M’Boom. While perhaps not as successful as Birth And Rebirth, the music is excellent and endlessly fascinating. One minor distraction is the inclusion of interviews that feature excerpts of the music on the discs, but playing time is generous enough that these can be seen as bonus tracks. Survivors and Bright Moments offer very contrasting approaches to working with string quartets. The Survivors quartet writing (by Peter Phillips, who had collaborated with Roach at Monterey in 1958) is fragmentary, rarely sustaining for more than a few seconds at a time while Roach gives out what could basically be a 20-minute solo. When the string music starts to coalesce, the drums distract and when the drums are center-stage, the strings distract. Overall it seems unsatisfying, despite there being nice moments (especially the ending). This long piece accounts for about half the record, the rest being solo pieces by Roach, which are, of course, excellent. Bright Moments is very different. Here, the working quartet with Bridgewater, Pope and electric bassist Tyrone Brown is augmented by the Uptown String Quartet, which includes Max’ daughter Maxine on viola, and the two groups integrate very convincingly. The tunes and arrangements are by jazz writers, from Brown to Roland Kirk and Randy Weston, and one assumes the very intelligent arrangements are as well. Not only do Bridgewater and Pope get to strut their stuff, but the string players contribute some nice solos as well. The only element that doesn’t blend seamlessly is the electric bass, which sounds at odds with the textures of the acoustic strings at times.