Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers - Free For All (Blue Note 1964, 2004)

Spurred on by Joe Lovano posing on the cover of the new Down Beat with a vinyl copy of this album and the reputation it has as the most intense Blakey disc, I picked up the RVG reissue and was extremely impressed by this awesome example of group jazz. This was a watershed year in jazz with the recording of Albert Ayler's Spiritual Unity and John Coltrane's A Love Supreme. As if to prove that bop and blues based jazz was far from finished, Blakey brought one of his strongest units to the studio that day with Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Curtis Fuller on trombone, Cedar Walton on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Art Blakey himself on drums. Shorter was eyeballing greener pastures, ready to move on to the Miles Davis band, as his composing and playing conception had expanded. This is shown on the opening performance, "Free For All" which typifies his move into more open jazz forms with a wide open song, and very strong saxophone solo. "Hammer Head" is also a Shorter song, with an amazing performance by all concerned, but particularly Hubbard who blows with unrivaled intensity and Blakey who seemingly has five different rhythms going simultaneously. Hubbard's own "The Core" comes next, dedicated to activists fighting racism during the civil rights movement, it is an emotional and thoughtful performance. Hubbard also had a hand in choosing the final selection, "Pensativa" which at a medium boil is the most mellow performance on the album. Blakey is the key here, as the backbeat he supplies acts as a perfect springboard for all of the other soloists ideas. This was an amazing record, and it is understandable why it would affect Joe Lovano so, the seeds of all the music he would explore during his own career are contained here. Each one of the musicians on this band would go on to success on their own, and to hear them at their best when they were young and full of fire is overwhelming.

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