Sunday, September 18, 2011

The History of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (Blue Note, 1992)

During his lengthy career that stretched from the late 1940’s to the late 1980’s, drummer Art Blakey was at the forefront of bebop and hard-bop jazz. His band would become an incubator for young jazz talent, many of whom went on to have significant careers in the music. This three-disc set presents highlights from Blakey’s recordings, and while by no means a comprehensive summation (Mosaic once did a six disc boxed set about one year of Blakey’s music, 1960) it serves as an excellent sampler of his many fine recordings. Disc One opens the collection with a look at Blakey’s early years as a leader or co-leader of the Messengers with Horace Silver. The pianist Silver and drummer Blakey were a potent combination, heralding in the new style of hard-bop which combined the virtuosity of bebop with soulful and bluesy elements. Selections from their residency at the club Birdland in New York City, featuring the impeccable Clifford Brown on trumpet and Lou Donaldson on alto saxophone are powerful live performances. From the October 30, 1958 studio session, comes two of the bands most well known tunes, “Moanin’” by pianist Bobby Timmons and “Blues March” by saxophonist Benny Golson, both of which would go on to become hard-bop standards. As the 1960’s dawned Blakey would reach his peak in the company of powerful modernists like the saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter, whose beautiful Lester Young tribute “Lester Left Town” is a towering performance, along with potent trumpeters like Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard. Their search for new directions in jazz while paying homage to the hard bop past gave the band the dynamism it needed to remain relevant as the jazz world changed around them. A lengthy performance of Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia” bears this out as the bebop chestnut is stretched and pulled like taffy at the hands of the musicians. Moving onto Disc Three, the band would record some of its finest performances in the mid 1960’s with Shorter’s extraordinary “Free For All” capturing the unit at its most intense, while “The Egyptian” would add the ripe sound of Curtis Fuller’s trombone to the front line to make the band into a crackling three horn sextet. The remaining tracks show glimpses of Blakey after he had left the Blue Note label with performance from stars in the making like Woody Shaw, Bobby Watson and of course the Marsalis brothers, Branford and Wynton. This is a truly excellent and completely enjoyable collection of music and makes a clear case for Art Blakey as one of the most important post-war jazz musicians, as a protean drummer, bandleader and developer of young talent. The History of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers -

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