Monday, July 20, 2020

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers - Just Coolin' (Blue Note, 2020)

This is a previously unreleased album from Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, recorded in March of 1959. The great drummer leads an all-star cast consisting of Lee Morgan on trumpet, Hank Mobley on tenor saxophone, Bobby Timmons on piano and Jymie Merritt on bass. The opening track "Hipsippy Blues" has a mellow and swinging theme and Mobley launching into a steely tenor saxophone solo with Blakey providing a crisp backbeat behind him. Mobley unfurls a fine lengthy statement, taking his time and letting the music flow through him in an unhurried fashion. Morgan seems a little tentative at first but pushes through, prodded by Blakey. The rhythm team plays at a lighter tone, with a light touch from the piano, fine bass and subtle beat from the leader taking them back to the closing theme. The group uses a gentler, more urgent theme on "Close Your Eyes," one which gradually unfolds, with Morgan delving into a much more assured solo, playing with great power and tone, carving through his improvised solo in an impressive fashion. Mobley takes a cooler path, quoting Ellington briefly, and engaging with Blakey's dynamic drumming. Timmons is light and spare, with Blakey shifting to brushes for an elegant trio section, and carving room for a fine bass solo before the band returns to the theme. "Jimerick" comes out swinging with a lightning fast Timmons piano section, followed by the horns joining in a witty fashion. Morgan takes off with a spitfire solo met by Blakey's fiercest percussion, and he is a gas during this brief feature. Timmons is also a riot playing at speed with his light touch, and Mobley's interlude is ripe and pure sound at bebop speed. Blakey builds up to a exceptional drum solo, slashing across the kit in grand style, the cherry on top of one of the album's best tracks. "Quick Trick" is a bright and swinging tune with subtle piano shadings, and light horn commentary. Morgan breaks out, with punchy trumpet lines that arc across the rhythm section, and Mobley adds his thoughts with a well articulated short featured section. A more propulsive groove is used on "M and M" with the bass really pushing and Mobley responding with a rapid and well expressed tenor saxophone solo. Morgan takes the baton and continues the push, playing with speed and well controlled grace as Blakey encourages him forward. Timmons' fast and loose piano feature keeps the pace, over taut bass and drums, then Blakey trades heavy loud phrases with his horn players in an exciting manner. "Just Coolin''' lets the band loose on a more complex theme, that encourages Mobley to make a well defined statement that sounds just right for the setting, stretching out at length. Morgan is comfortable in this setting as well, playing with confidence and riding atop a wave of percussion. Merritt steps out for another well played bass feature, before the leader gets his own with a great and rhythmically diverse drum solo. This is a good solid album of hard-hop from the musicians that made the sub-genre happen. The group was in flux with Wayne Shorter waiting in the wings to take the saxophone chair and Blue Note recording the group for a live album just a month after this session. So although it may have gotten lost in the shuffle, this album is still well worth hearing. Just Coolin' -

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