Each man in this band had cut his teeth on bebop and blues, but the group's sound on these compositions marks a change in style from bebop to so-called cool jazz and hard bop. This comes across in more fluid melodic lines that float above chord progressions and in group collaboration beyond the typical "head-in...solos...head-out" format. Powell takes a mannered approach on the keyboard, but his creativity shines in compositions like "Time," with its toy piano background reminiscent of Monk, and the spirited "Gertrude's Bounce." Two tunes from Tadd Dameron show that these still young players were rooted in the smooth, swinging style of the big bands that were gasping their last breath in the late '50s. Sonny Rollins Plus Four is predictably more of a vehicle for Rollins, with two of his original songs that made a lasting addition to the jazz canon, "Valse Hot" and "Pent-Up House." Brown rips into everything with a gusto and certainty that one would expect in a much more mature player. His love for rapid-fire bursts of notes, with long lines that threaded through the changes and arpeggiated enough to make Powell's comping almost irrelevant, shows how much he was straddling the line between older styles and what was coming. Roach rumbles in the background but lets the horn players take most of the glory. Rollins puts in several good solos but acts very much like the sideman during the Basin Street recordings.
Apart from hearing almost 80 minutes of wonderful soloing from legends like Rollins and Brown, the group's interplay on Clifford Brown/ Sonny Rollins/ Max Roach Quintet: Complete Studio Recordings seems almost telepathic at times. For the most part, bebop's quick motifs (that were only an excuse to get to the solos, anyway) have been replaced by elaborate melodies and arrangements that showcase each instrument. There's still plenty of spirit; one can almost hear during some of these solos the joy of release after chomping at the bit. Bringing more structure to the small group setting was a hallmark of '50s jazz, but the Clifford Brown/ Sonny Rollins/ Max Roach Quintet: Complete Studio Recordings showcases musicians that almost always found that perfect balance between heart and mind in their music.