Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Jazz Messengers - 1957 - Ritual

The Jazz Messengers 

01. Sam's Tune 5:50
02. Scotch Blues 8:40
03. Once Upon A Groove 8:36
04. Comments By Art Blakey 1:54
05. Ritual 9:59
06. Touche 6:15
07. Wake Up 5:03

Alto Saxophone – Jackie McLean
Bass – Spanky DeBrest
Drums – Art Blakey
Piano – Sam Dockery
Trumpet – Bill Hardiman

This album was produced for Pacific Jazz by George Avakian in exchange for a Chet Baker album produced for Columbia Records by Richard Bock

It is Blakey’s album, and features in a long drum solo “Ritual” with a “search for my roots” narrative from Art Blakey about idealised primitive Nigerian village life;  hunting / girl-chasing / and the central role of collective drumming as a form of story-telling. Modern Nigeria of the Sixties was also home of often-imprisoned Fela Kuti, who offered a slightly different take on this former British colony. A country riven with ethno-tribal tensions – Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa and Fulani – resulting in a civil war, ruled over a decade by a military junta, and an elite in Africa as it’s main oil-producing country: a far cry from Blakey’s primitives. The introduction narrative by Art Blakey is here.

Interesting, uneven '57 date that contains a lengthy drum piece by Blakey. This was not his greatest group, although alto saxophonist Jackie McLean was among the hardest blowers he ever employed. Bassist Spanky Debrest and trumpeter Bill Hardman were good musicians, but a notch below the others who filled their roles in future Messenger editions.

This is not, from afar, one of the best line-ups of the highest Messengers era, which last from middle fifties to middle sixties. Are gone the days with Clifford Brown, Lou Donaldson, Horace Silver, Donald Byrd and Hank Mobley (who returned briefly in the late fifties), and still had to arrive the days with Lee Morgan, Benny Golson, Bobby Timmons, Freddie Hubbard and Wayne Shorter. But here Jackie McLean shines with his usual fluency and vitality.

The Jazz Mesengers - 1956 - At The Cafe Bohemia Vol. 2

The Jazz Mesengers
At The Cafe Bohemia Vol. 2

Original Blue Note BLP 1508

01. Introduction By Art Blakey
02. Sportin' Crowd
03. Like Someone In Love
04. Yesterdays
05. Avila And Tequila
06. I Waited For You

Cd Reissue:

01. Announcement By Art Blakey
02. Sportin` Crowd
03. Like Someone In Love
04. Yesterdays
05. Avila And Tequila
06. I Waited For You
07. Just One Of Those Things
08. Hank`S Symphony
09. Gone With The Wind

Bass – Doug Watkins
Piano – Horace Silver
Drums - Art Blakey
Tenor Saxophone – Hank Mobley
Trumpet – Kenny Dorham

Recorded live on November 23, 1955.

Volume deux of the 1955 Cafe Bohemia sessions from Art Blakey's second edition Jazz Messengers is better than the first. The music is more energetic, cohesive, and pushes the hard bop farther. Where the first volume featured compositions of newly recruited trumpeter Kenny Dorham, it is tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley asserting himself on the bandstand with his set pieces that formed the foundation of the first studio edition of the quintet that included Donald Byrd. Here, Mobley does not defer to Dorham, pushing his sound forward without compromising his vision. "Sportin' Crowd" is definitely an ear opener, a straight-ahead, hard bop gem based on the changes of the Sonny Rollins' classic "Tenor Madness." A live version of "Hank's Symphony" -- recapitulated from the studio version on the original Jazz Messengers' LP for the Columbia label -- has an Asian and calypso flair with many accented notes and a secondary melody. The killer track is Mobley's "Avila & Tequila," drenched in Blakey's churning Afro-Cuban beats, filled with multiple modal devices especially from Horace Silver, and charges ahead as if there was no tomorrow -- a truly memorable and vital performance. The other tracks may seem to pale by comparison, but the easy, bluesy "Like Someone in Love," a short ballad version of "Yesterdays" finally featuring trumpeter Dorham, and Mobley's luscious tenor during the ultimate tearjerker "I Waited for You" offer stark contrast while losing no internal intensity. It is on "Just One of Those Things" where the band really straightens up and convenes in tandem, a solid cohesion where Dorham and Mobley work like an effortless, major league shortstop and second base double-play combination. "Gone with the Wind" finishes this set in soulful, legato, dispassionate refrains. This is a more consistent effort than the first volume, with a much anticipated, late-night set still on the horizon.

This is the second volume of the recordings the original Jazz Messengers lineup made at NYC's Cafe Bohemia on 11/23/1955. Although Art Blakey would lead many subsequent versions of the group following this lineup's breakup in 1956, most of which are very good, this first, cooperative lineup had a certain combination of power, swing, melodicism and bluesy feeling that was never quite captured again. Kenny Dorham (trumpet) and Hank Mobley (tenor sax) make a formidable front line, as well as providing two of its three main writers (the other being pianist Horace Silver, who would himself go on to a long illustrious solo career). The first three cuts along show their versatility within the then-emerging hard bop format, as they cook at a fast tempo on Mobley's "Sportin' Crowd", aka Sonny Rollins' "Tenor Madness"; hit a medium-paced groove on the standard "Like Someone In Love", and showcase Dorham's ballad style on "Yesterdays". There's also a taste of things to come for the Messengers on another Mobley composition, "Avila and Tequila", where the rest of the band (Dorham, Mobley, Silver and bassist Doug Watkins) play assorted percussion behind Blakey's drum solo. Blakey would adopt this for the early 60's lineup's arrangement of "A Night In Tunisia".

The Jazz Mesengers - 1956 - At The Cafe Bohemia Vol. 1

The Jazz Mesengers
At The Cafe Bohemia Vol. 1

Original Blue Note BLP 1507:

01. Soft Winds
02. The Theme
03. Minor's Holiday
04. Alone Together
05. Prince Albert


01. Announcement By Art Blakey 1:32
02. Soft Winds 12:34
03. The Theme 6:11
04. Minor's Holiday 9:11
05. Alone Together 4:15
06. Prince Albert 8:51
07. Lady Bird 7:30
08. What's New 4:31
09. Deciphering The Message 10:13

Bass – Doug Watkins
Drums – Art Blakey
Piano – Horace Silver
Tenor Saxophone – Hank Mobley
Trumpet – Kenny Dorham

Recorded on November 23, 1955 at the Café Bohemia, New York City.
These are mono recordings.
Tracks 1 to 6 originally released as BLP 1507.
Tracks 7 to 9 did not appear on the original LP.

This is Art Blakey's early period Jazz Messengers featuring trumpeter Kenny Dorham, saxophonist Hank Mobley, bassist Doug Watkins, and pianist Horace Silver. This first volume of live performance from the Cafe Bohemia in New York City circa late 1955 is a rousing set of hard bop by the masters who signified its sound, and expanded on the language of modern jazz. There are three bonus CD tracks not on the original LP that further emphasize not only the inherent power of Blakey's band and drumming, but demarcate the simplicity of melodic statements that were a springboard for the fantastic soloing by these individuals who would follow those tuneful lines. Dorham is responsible for this edict, as he contributes three of the selections, including the staccato-accented melody of "Minor's Holiday" primed by a thumping intro via Blakey, "Prince Albert" with its by now classic and clever reharmonization of "All the Things You Are," and the perennial closer of every set "The Theme," with its brief repeat melody and powerhouse triple-time bop break. Mobley wrote the scattered melody of "Deciphering the Message," heard here at length for the first time, although it was later available in its original shortened studio form on the reissued Columbia CD Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers. The tenor man gets his feature on the quarter-speed slowed ballad version of "Alone Together," which altogether sounds pining and blue to the nth degree. Standards like Fletcher Henderson's "Soft Winds" seemed merely a simple and lengthy warmup tune, but Tadd Dameron's "Lady Bird" is an absolute workout, with variations abounding on the intro, first and second run-throughs of the melody, and some harmonic twists. Watkins is featured on the lead line of "What's New?," which again combines melancholy with that slightest spark of hope. If this is indeed in chronological order as a first set from the November 13, 1955 performances, it wets the whistle and leaves the listener wanting more, knowing the best is yet to come.

Cafe Bohemia... smoke in the air... glasses clanking... a small crowd of finely tuned listeners hoping to hear something memorable. Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley, Doug Watkins, Horace Silver and Art Blakey gave it to them!

Early Mobley is so interesting to me. He's not underdeveloped or anything like that, but he's more raw here. Where I tend to think things like "black satin" about his playing and tone on Soul Station or No Room for Squares, here he's more primal. More visceral. This isn't a criticism about one era or the other, just a comment. I love him in everything mentioned, just in different ways, for different reasons. He is awesome here. Unequivocally.

Kenny Dorham is in a bit of a development phase here... sometimes. A few times on this album you hear him thinking through his solos. You can sense him intellectually considering the contour of his solo as he's playing. It's not "bad" by any means, but it's not the peak of where you hope to be, as a musician. What did Charlie Parker say? First you learn your instrument. Then you learn the tunes. Then you go out on the bandstand to forget all that Shhht and play! Exactly. Exactly! Kenny wasn't quite THERE yet, at all times here. He was for a couple tracks, though. I'll let you find them for yourself. It's all just flowing out of him. He's not thinking at all. He's just a conduit for the music. Kenny seems to simply open a door and let the music fall out. Those are his peaks of the album.

Not enough can be said for the high sonic quality in which this date was recorded. That's certainly a big part of what makes this stuff great. Whether we're comparing this to Complete Jazz at Massey Hall (the best issue of that set) or Live in the World, this kills both of those. The sound here... the musicians' richness of tones comes right through. Only if you were there in the club that night could this music have sounded better.

This is one of my favorite albums by one of Blakey's best bands.

The Jazz Messengers - 1956 - The Jazz Messengers

The Jazz Messengers
The Jazz Messengers

01. Infra-Rae
02. Nica's Dream
03. It's You Or No One
04. Ecaroh
05. Carol's Interlude
06. The End Of A Love Affair
07. Hank's Symphony

08. Weird-O
09. Ill Wind
10. Late Show
11. Deciphering The Message
12. Carol's Interlude

Bass – Doug Watkins
Drums – Art Blakey
Piano – Horace Silver
Tenor Saxophone – Hank Mobley
Trumpet – Donald Byrd

Recorded April 6th, 1956 and May 4, 1956

Born in 1919, Art Blakey began his musical career, as did many jazz musicians, in the church. The foster son of a devout Seventh Day Adventist Family, Art learned the piano as he learned the Bible, mastering both at an early age.

But as Art himself told it so many times, his career on the piano ended at the wrong end of a pistol when the owner of the Democratic Club — the Pittsburgh nightclub where he was gigging — ordered him off the piano and onto the drums.

Art, then in his early teens and a budding pianist, was usurped by an equally young, Erroll Garner who, as it turned out, was as skilled at the piano as Blakey later was at the drums. The upset turned into a blessing for Art, launching a career that spanned six decades and nurtured the careers of countless other jazz musicians.

As a young drummer, Art came under the tutelage of legendary drummer and bandleader Chick Webb, serving as his valet. In 1937, Art returned to Pittsburgh, forming his own band, teaming up with Pianist Mary Lou Williams, under whose name the band performed.

From his Pittsburgh gig, Art made his way through the Jazz world. In 1939, he began a three-year gig touring with Fletcher Henderson. After a year in Boston with a steady gig at the Tic Toc club, he joined the great Billy Eckstine, gigging with the likes of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Sarah Vaughn.

In 1948, Art told reporters he had visited Africa, where he learned polyrhythmic drumming and was introduced to Islam, taking the name Abdullah Ibn Buhaina. It was in the late ’40s that Art formed his first Jazz Messengers band, a 17-piece big band.

After a brief gig with Buddy DeFranco, in 1954 Art met up with pianist Horace Silver, altoist Lou Donaldson, trumpeter Clifford Brown, and bassist Curly Russell and recorded “live” at Birdland for Blue Note Records. The following year, Art and Horace Silver co-founded the quintet that became the Jazz Messengers. In 1956, Horace Silver left the band to form his own group leaving the name, the Jazz Messengers, to Art Blakey.

Art’s driving rhythms and his incessant two and four beat on the high hat cymbals were readily identifiable from the outset and remained a constant throughout 35 years of Jazz Messengers bands. What changed constantly was a seeming unending supply of talented sidemen, many of whom went on to become band leaders in their own right.

In the early years luminaries like Clifford Brown, Hank Mobley and Jackie McLean rounded out the band. In 1959, tenor saxophonist Benny Golson joined the quintet and — at Art’s behest — began working on the songbook and recruiting what became one of the timeless Messenger bands — tenor saxman Wayne Shorter, trumpeter Lee Morgan, pianist Bobby Timmons and bassist Jymmie Merritt.

The songs produced from ’59 through the early ’60s became trademarks for the Messengers — including Timmon’s Moanin’, Golson’s Along Came Betty and Blues March and Shorter’s Ping Pong.

By this time, the Messengers had become a mainstay on the jazz club circuit and began recording on Blue Note Records. They began touring Europe, with forays into North Africa. In 1960, the Messengers became the first American Jazz band to play in Japan for Japanese audiences. That first Japanese tour was a high point for the band. At the Tokyo airport, the band was greeted by hundreds of fans as Blues March played over their airport intercom and their visit was televised nationally.

In 1961, trombonist Curtis Fuller transformed the Messengers into a proper sextet, giving the band the opportunity to incorporate a big band sound into their hard bop repertoire. Throughout the ’60s, the Messengers remained a mainstay on the jazz scene with jazz greats including Cedar Walton, Chuck Mangione, Keith Jarrett, Reggie Workman, Lucky Thompson and John Hicks. In the jazz drought of the ’70s, the Messengers remained a strong force, with fewer recordings, but no less energy. At a time when many jazz musicians were experimenting with electronics and fusing their music with pop, the Messengers were a mainstay of straight-ahead jazz.

Art’s steadfast belief in jazz music left him well positioned to take advantage of the music’s resurgence in the early ’80s. Art had been working with musicians including trumpeter Valery Ponomarev, tenor Billy Pierce, alto saxman Bobby Watson and pianist James Williams. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis’ 1980 entrance into the band coincided — and played no small part in — the resurgence of the music in the ’80s.

Throughout the ’80 and until his death in 1990, Art maintained the integrity of the message, incubating the careers of musicians including trumpeters Wallace Rooney and Terence Blanchard, pianists Mulgrew Miller and Donald Brown, bassists Peter Washington and Lonnie Plaxico and many others.

Art died at the age of 71 after a career that spanned six of the best decades of jazz music. The messenger has moved on, but his message lives on in the music of the scores of sidemen whose careers he nurtured, the many other drummers he mentored and countless fans who have been blessed to hear the Messengers’ music.

The very first edition of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers was unfortunately short-lived, and as excellent as they were collectively, it was the beginning of a trend for the members of this group to come and go. Unbeknown to Blakey at the time, he would become a champion for bringing talent from the high minor leagues to full-blown jazz-star status, starting with this band featuring Detroit trumpeter Donald Byrd, East coast tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, and pianist Horace Silver, a jazz legend ever after. It's evident that although there is much cohesion in the group, Byrd's star was on the rise the fastest, and he would leave shortly, replaced briefly by Clifford Brown, then Kenny Dorham. What is most remarkable in this first recording for the band is how several of these selections have become classic hard bop vehicles, revered and replayed by thousands of bands worldwide. "Nica's Dream" is the best known of them all, typical of the calypso beats Blakey favored at the time, with a singsong, hummable melody led by Byrd that is pure soul personified and drenched in unrequited blues. Their take of "The End of a Love Affair" is one of those arrangements that would be hard to top, filled with deft rhythm changes and a distinctive group signature sound identified by the Mobley-Byrd tandem. "Ecaroh" ("Horace" spelled backwards) keeps the Latin beat but puts in a breezier context, a simple beauty of a tune only the pianist and Blakey could have conceived, and called their own at the time. "Infra Rae" is a quintessential hard bop workout, and "Hank's Symphony," while not a classic, is innovative in that it uses an Asian-inspired introduction, an Afro-Cuban base, and a force like a wild hurricane via Blakey's fast, inspired, cut-loose drumming. In retrospect, the Jazz Messengers could easily be tagged the eighth wonder of the world, starting with this finely crafted first effort that definitely stands the test of time.