Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers - Africaine (Blue Note 1959, 1979)

The great drummer and bandleader Art Blakey recorded loads of music for the Blue Note label during the 1950's and 60's, all of it good, some of it excellent. What is surprising is that this excellent session lay in the vaults for 20 years before an archival release in 1979. The lineup is stellar: in addition to Blakey, we have Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Lee Morgan on trumpet, Walter Davis Jr. on piano, Jymie Meritt on bass and Dizzy Reece sitting in on congas for a few tracks. "Africaine" opens the album at a swinging uptempo clip with some jaunty trumpet for Morgan. The track features Meritt, who plays vibrant and propulsive bass setting the stage for Reece and Blakey develop an excellent percussion dialogue. A sense of strutting swing ushers in Wayne Shorter's tribute to Lester Young, "Lester Left Town." both the saxophonist and trumpeter solo in a confident and brash manner before Blakey breaks in to trade phrases with each before the tune winds down. The remainder of the compositions on the album are by Lee Morgan beginning with "Hiana", arguably the highlight of the album. Blakey throws down the gauntlet with a storming uptempo drum opening which Morgan responds to with a scalding statement of his own. Things settle down with a simmering piano, bass and drums interlude before Reece enters with some clattering hand percussion goading Blakey onto an explosive drum solo. "The Midget" and "Celine" wrap up the album, both very good performances in the hard bop vein. Shorter speaks his piece with excellent solo sections on both songs and the ensemble playing is top notch. This is an excellent album of hard bop and is recommended to any fan of the sub-genre. Shorter and Morgan were new to Blakey's group and would go on to make great strides with the Messengers over the next few years, and this is where the magic started. Africaine - amazon.com

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