Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Jazz Messengers - 1961 - A Night In Tunisia

The Jazz Messengers
A Night In Tunisia

01. A Night In Tunisia
02. Sincerely Diana
03. So Tired
04. Yama
05. Kozo's Waltz

Bass – Jymie Merritt
Drums – Art Blakey
Piano – Bobby Timmons
Tenor Saxophone – Wayne Shorter
Trumpet – Lee Morgan

Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter performs by courtesy of Vee-Jay Records.
Bobby Timmons performs by courtesy of Riverside Records.

Recorded on August 7 & 14, 1960

Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers hit their artistic peak with the powerful A Night in Tunisia. This incarnation of the group included Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Bobby Timmons, and Jymie Merritt along with their leader, Blakey. As the Messengers entered their most fruitful period for Blue Note, Blakey drove his men relentlessly with powerful grooves, heavy swinging, and shouts of encouragement. This session documents the full power of his assertive leadership and the masterful playing of his sidemen, each rising to legendary status under his tutelage. Long known for their creative arrangements within the context of small-group jazz, the Messengers push the definition of hard bop and blues to the limit here. Dizzy Gillespie's title track is evidence enough of the creative power of this group: Blakey's steam shovel-like mambo, Morgan and Shorter's wailing solos, and a dramatic ending make for a stunning piece. Shorter's contribution includes the swinging "Sincerely Diana." The soulful Bobby Timmons presents his delightful "So Tired," a bluesy number in the spirit of his classic "Dat Dere." Also included are Lee Morgan's smoky "Yama," the bouncing "Kozo's Waltz," and the classic "When Your Lover Has Gone."

The Jazz Messengers - 1961 - Meet You At The Jazz Corner Of The World Vol. 1

The Jazz Messengers 
Meet You At The Jazz Corner Of The World Vol. 1

01. The Opener
02. What Know
03. The Theme
04. 'Round About Midnight
05. The Breeze And I

Bass – Jymie Merritt
Drums – Art Blakey
Piano – Bobby Timmons
Tenor Saxophone – Wayne Shorter
Trumpet – Lee Morgan

Attention! Not to be confused with volumes I and II (BLP 4015 and 4016) with similar title "At the Corner of the World" but recorded earlier on April 15, 1959.

Recorded live on September 14, 1960.

The legendary NYC jazz club Birdland was sacred ground for drummer Art Blakey who recorded three live albums for Blue Note at the venue between 1954 and 1960: A Night at Birdland, At the Jazz Corner of the World, and Meet You At The Jazz Corner of the World. This last date featured one of the greatest lineups of Blakey’s powerhouse outfit The Jazz Messengers. Spirits are high on this superb outing from the iconic introduction by MC Pee Wee Marquette through two volumes of thrilling hard-bop.
There are three indispensable 2-disc sets recorded at Birdland and released under Art Blakey's name. The first, "A Night at Birdland," deserves the listener's first consideration for several reasons: it's a historic first, the first "live" recording of significance by Blue Note and Van Gelder; it includes the special arranging and accompanying talents of Horace Silver; it's one of the two or three most distinguished recordings by the brilliant trumpeter, Clifford Brown who, despite never seeing his 26 birthday, is ranked by those who should know as "the best of all time." But neither of the two remaining double-disc albums recorded by Art at Birdland should be considered a distant second. Both "A Night at Birdland" and the brilliant Columbia studio album, "Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers," combined the arranging/accompanying genius of Horace Silver with the enabling, inflammatory energies of Blakey to produce albums as noteworthy for their solo work as for their ingeniuous, swinging arrangements. However, when Silver split from Blakey to form the Horace Silver Quintet, the differences between the two groups could not have been clearer. Whereas Horace's groups, especially after the spectacular success of a minor Silver tune ("Song for My Father"), stressed formulaic arrangements with contained solos (even with the prodigious Michael Brecker on board), Art's groups were about individual freedom and maximum self-expression while adhering to the jazz mainstream. The seemingly indefatigable, indestructible leader seemed to share with the American poet Ezra Pound the criteria: "Make it new!" "Make it live!" "Keep it alive." All the while, Art could be heard hollering encouragement ("Play your horn!") and cracking his whip relentlessly to ensure that not so much as a single lifeless, sterile moment would threaten vital, creative stream. "Play every note as if your life depended on it" was his motto, spoken by a drummer who, despite all that might be said about Buddy, Max. Elvin and Tony, was in a league of his own, unequalled in terms of sheer power. He was thunder and lightning personified, a force of nature, and all attempts to emulate him--alumni bands that attempt to perform the Messengers repertory--fall way short because there was only one Bu.

For this reason, Art's on-location albums are his best, the ones that are most likely to return a lifetime of inexhaustible pleasure to their owner. The later two Birdland albums have an undeniable edge in the saxophone department. Some listeners may prefer the pictured album, "Meet You at the Jazz Corner of the World," because of the presence of Wayne Shorter; others may prefer the almost identically worded "At the Jazz Corner of the World" because of the ceaselessly inventive, soulful playing of Hank Mobley. But both sessions are equally valuable; both will reward the listener with new, exciting discoveries with each new listening. Both albums, moreover, serve to do full justice by the skills of trumpeter Lee Morgan, providing him with the kind of platform Clifford Brown enjoyed on the first of the Messengers' live albums from Birdland. And at least one other live Messengers album rises to the same indispensable level: "At the Cafe Bohemia," another "two-fer" that includes not only Horace Silver but the redoubtable Doug Watkins on bass, the profoundly melodic tenor of Hank Mobley, and the trumpeter who replaced Clifford Brown in group he had co-led with drummer Max Roach: Kenny Dorham.

Some collectors, no doubt, will disagree about the distinctive excellence of Mobley who, despite (or because of) being the most-recorded Blue Note tenor player, was all but taken for granted. And when he served as the primary transitional tenor player between Trane and Shorter in Miles' quintet, he was made to look bad on the Columbia recording ("Someday My Price Will Come") on which Miles' decision to include Coltrane on the title tune could only make Hank appear the simpler, markedly inferior player. But to my ears Mobley brings to the music an understated, unfaltering lyricism that simply refuses to wear out its welcome. Perhaps even more than another underrated and understated tenor "giant" of this period, Harold Land, Mobley is a perpetual source of surprise and delight, a player who embodies the African-American tradition that James Baldwin expresses so movingly in what some regard as the best story about jazz, "Sonny's Blues."

The prices I'm seeing for this two-fer are slightly out-of-sight. Consider picking up a used edition of Volume 1 and downloading Volume 2 (though I'd pay the freight for the complete "At the Jazz Corner" as well as "At the Cafe Bohemia" and "At Birdland." (I'm content to go with my analog LP edition of the popular "Moanin'" session, which to my ears runs out of steam more quickly than "Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers" on Columbia, a desert-island disc if there ever was one (which is not to deny the merit of the Golson compositions on the "Moanin'" disc that have since become jazz standards).

[Warning: Since acquiring the Van Gelder remastered CD of "Meet You at the Jazz Corner of the World," I've come to the realization that some of the distortion I formerly blamed on a commercial downloading service is in the original source. The mics and/or mixing are simply overly "hot"--to the point that occasionally the tones break up.] As for the music, Lecuona's "The Breeze and I" may be a lovely melody, but it's highly questionable whether the tune is worthy of this ensemble. When it comes to Blakey and company, you can put aside cool breezes as well as escapist fantasies like "cool jazz," "contemporary jazz," "smooth jazz" or any other musical pleasantries, whether dated or new age. Blakey's music is lighning and thunder, it's bold and in your face, the story of joy born of suffering and pain, its music containing the history of a people yet universal in its appeal to our deepest understandings of what it means to be human.

Blakey's last name is one letter away from the most visionary poet in English literature: William Blake. Blake called his best-known poems "songs," and none of those songs is more admired than the one capturing the power of the Tiger and questioning its source. It's doubtful that any writer--critic, admirer, novelist, poet--has tapped into the creative well-springs of an artist like Art Blakey as persuasively as William Blake does in "The Tiger":

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

The Jazz Messengers - 1960 - Paris Jam Session

 The Jazz Messengers 
Paris Jam Session

01. Dance Of The Infidels 12:12
02. Bouncing With Bud 11:43
03. The Midget 10:58
04. Night In Tunisia 7:04

Alto Saxophone – Barney Wilen
Bass – Jimmy Meritt
Drums – Art Blakey
Piano – Bud Powell, Walter Davis Junior
Tenor Saxophone – Wayne Shorter
Trumpet – Lee Morgan

"This jam session at the Theâtre des Champs Elysées was recorded on December 18, 1959"

An historic session for those of us who are either Bud Powell or Jazz Messenger fans - or both. This jam session was recorded live at the Champ-Elysees Fontana on December 18, 1959.

There are two sets, one lasting about 24 minutes in which Bud Powell and Barney Wilen sit in, and one that is only the Jazz Messengers that lasts approximately 18 minutes.

The core band consists of Art Blakey on drums, Lee Morgan on trumpet, Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Walter Davis on piano and Jymie Merritt on bass.

On set one, Bud Powell sits in replacing Walter Davis and Barney Wilen joins on alto saxophone. They play through Dance of the Infidels and Bouncing With Bud and they are smoking! Everyone likes to claim that Bud's abilities had diminished by this period, but I flat defy anyone who listens to this to convince me.

The shorter set, consisting of The Midget and Night In Tunisia, are with the normal Jazz Messengers line-up and, as usual, is energetic and a musical masterpiece. Oh, to have been there!

There are two additional albums from the preceding year that anyone who loves this album will also appreciate (and both of which I highly recommend): Live in Zurich 1958 and At Club Saint-Germain Volumes 1 to 3.

The Jazz Messengers - 1960 - Theatre Des Champs Elysee

The Jazz Messengers
Theatre Des Champs Elysee

01. Close Your Eyes 9:35
02. Goldie 9:00
03. Ray's Idea 5:00
04. Lester Left Town 10:45

Bass – Jymie Merritt
Drums – Art Blakey
Piano – Walter Davis
Tenor Saxophone – Wayne Shorter
Trumpet – Lee Morgan

Live recording 1959, Nov. 15

Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers are heard in a 1959 concert at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris on this French CD. At the time the unit included Wayne Shorter and Lee Morgan, with Walter Davis, Jr. and Jymie Merritt joining Blakey in the rhythm section. Most of the four pieces featured give the band a chance to stretch out and are the typical high-energy performances one has come to expect from bands led by the veteran drummer, with the opener, "Close Your Eyes," getting the nod over the other tracks. Morgan's trumpet solos are sparkling, while Shorter has a few problems with squeaking his reed on occasion but otherwise is close to top form. The rather muddy sound of this live recording is somewhat disappointing for a major-label release, which has been reissued on CD by RCA France but not yet in the United States; therefore, it is worth the investment for obsessive Art Blakey collectors, while most jazz fans will gravitate to better-sounding releases first.