Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: So Tired

This grooving AABA composition features a Latin/Boogaloo "A" section and a swinging "B" section – effortlessly executed by the Timmons/Merritt/Blakey rhythm section. Note how Blakey's "straight" ride-cymbal pattern over the Latin/Boogaloo sections still swings nearly as much as the actual swing sections do! Shorter and Timmons both produce fine solos here, but they serve as bookends to the true marvel of this track, the fiery Lee Morgan solo so brimming with energy and ideas that it often sounds as if Morgan is beginning another incredible line before ending his previous one. This is among the finest examples of a "mellow" Messengers track – from composition and arrangement to strong Blakey groove to soulful, exciting solos from all members.

April 15, 2008 · 2 comments

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Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: The Drum Thunder Suite

While Art Blakey's earlier sessions with, respectively, Horace Silver and Thelonious Monk were essential in developing the Jazz Messengers craft, Moanin' levitated the group to its true level of innovation. With the contrasting yet equally autographical gospel blues of "Moanin'" and the rapid-fire attack of "The Drum Thunder Suite," this record set the standard to which the Messengers sound would consistently adhere throughout much of its career. The arrival of longtime members Morgan and Timmons, and briefly tenured yet influential tenorman/composer Benny Golson, resulted in one of the more effortless Jazz Messengers grooves. Note the classic Blakey solo characteristics throughout this tune: the melodic call-and-response between the toms, the loud, multi-drum rolls, and the cymbals used as accents, all performed while maintaining the constant hi-hat pulse.

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk: Rhythm-A-Ning

One of the many strengths of Art Blakey's musical leadership was his ability to bring new musicians on board without sacrificing the overall sound or approach of the Jazz Messengers. Even when Thelonious Monk enters the picture, you may ask? Well, ultimately, yes.

The first half of the track is more like a Monk recording than a Messengers recording. Blakey is noticeably subdued, and although his signature pounding hi-hat pulse is still present, he lightly breaks the rhythm more like Roy Haynes than like Art Blakey. Blakey appears to be taking the backseat and allowing Monk to run the show. As the track progresses and the other musicians begin to solo, however, Blakey raises the intensity level, and the soloists take notice and answer the call. All of sudden, even though Monk's comping presence is felt throughout, the Messenger service is back in full swing – replete with Blakey's big rolls between solos and signature solo licks to conclude the tune. The presence of Monk and his tunes on this '57 session makes for a fascinating study of the collision of dominant jazz personalities.

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers: Hankerin'

Even though just a year (nearly to the day) had elapsed between Art Blakey's classic recordings with Clifford Brown live at Birdland and this Horace Silver-led studio session, quite a bit had changed in Blakey's musical world. His co-op band was now officially "The Jazz Messengers," and their feverish bop influence began to succumb to a more subdued, gospel/blues-influenced hard bop. Dorham and Mobley were the perfect match for this early, transitional edition of the Messengers, able to blow at a blistering pace and also execute Silver's more graceful material. On this track, you can almost sense the group's early influences melting away as the classic hard-bop Messenger sound forms before our very ears. Of special note is Mobley's fine, complex solo and the Blakey signature of all signatures: the constant thumping out of beats two and four with his hi-hat foot that begins in the tune's opening measure and lasts until the final chord is struck!

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey: Wee-Dot

Art Blakey had led his own sessions from as early as 1947, when his collaboration with Kenny Dorham and Walter Bishop Jr., among others, was released as New Sounds (also released as The Thin Man and The Bop Alley). These February '54 performances, however, truly launched Blakey's solo career. It is out of this legendary lineup that the original, small-group Jazz Messengers would soon be formed. Note the classic performances by all band members here – the scorching Brown improvisation, the astoundingly Birdlike Donaldson offering, the soulful Silver comping, and the simple, sustained intensity of Blakey's groove. While no group may ever be able to swing as fast and with as much virtuosity as Diz/Bird/Roach, no group may ever be able to swing as physically hard and as deep as this bebop/hard-bop lineup. A classic introduction to the Blakey sound.

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Max Roach: Blues Waltz

This edition of Roach's quintet doesn't get the same attention that his earlier band with Clifford Brown has received. Yet this unit stands out as one of the best hard bop bands of the decade. On "Blues Waltz," Sonny Rollins demonstrates his growing maturity, Dorham plays at top form, and Roach picks up so much steam on his drum solo that you will forget that the 3/4 rhythm ever flourished in elegant Viennese ballrooms. The hidden gem here is pianist Billy Wallace, a great two-handed player who all but disappeared in later years. Shall we waltz?

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Grant Green: Ain't It Funky Now

This is the ultimate rare groove—true funk perfection. The undemanding harmony forces the focus onto the rhythm, which is gritty, commanding, thick and multi-layered with flawless auxiliary percussion. Check out Idris Muhammad’s slammin’ drum breaks between 0:59 and 1:11—wow!! During his funk phase, Green limited himself to blues pentatonics and a finite number of licks. He uses them brilliantly here, however, constructing the most exciting solo in his funk catalog. Bartee and Mitchell contribute sizzling improvisations that are so smart and melodic they are actually catchier and more singable than the melody itself. Infectious and powerful, this is unquestionably a “must have” recording, and it is guaranteed that one listen will not be enough.

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Blue Mitchell: Hi-Heel Sneakers

After Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder” rocked jukeboxes nationwide in 1964, Blue Note started searching for its next big hit. More and more albums jumped off with a danceable, R&B-style track, though many can be written off as uninspired and diluted commercial compromises. Not Blue Mitchell’s high-class version of “Hi-Heel Sneakers.” This vigorous groover burns from beginning to end, driven by Taylor’s repetitive, blues bassline and Foster’s determined ride cymbal. Having perfected their trade in Horace Silver’s group, Mitchell and Cook are masters of concise, funky blues minimalism. Young Chick Corea adds some soulful statements of his own, showing flashes of the brilliance that would soon make him one of the most influential pianists of his generation.

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver: Enchantment

New Mexico invited trouble in 1941 by emblazoning "Land of Enchantment" on their license plates. Enchanted visitors soon dropped out of the sky, most alarmingly at Roswell in 1947. The mystery deepened in 1956 when jazz encyclopedist Leonard Feather, writing of Horace Silver's "Enchantment," referred suggestively to "devices not typical of him," yet stopped short of alleging either extraterrestrial involvement or government cover-up. All we can say at this remove is that "Enchantment," set against an insinuating beat and with Mobley's standout lyricism, is among Silver's most intriguing tunes, reminiscent of Brown & Roach's slithery "Delilah" (1954). A band of enchantment.

January 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey (featuring Wayne Shorter): Children of the Night

Wayne Shorter’s first big career break came when he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1959. He quickly became the group’s musical director, composing and arranging many of the band’s most popular titles from the era. "Children Of The Night" features Shorter’s tenor from the outset with Hubbard and Fuller contributing harmonic accompaniment. At the time, Shorter was often compared to John Coltrane, and he does seem to take a cue from Trane at the beginning of his solo, navigating the changes with dense sheets of sound. That said, Shorter’s sound and conception are fully matured and his wry, often stuttering lines reveal his own original voice.

January 18, 2008 · 1 comment

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Bobby Timmons: Dat Dere

This underrated 1961 session presents Blakey/Adderley alumnus Bobby Timmons in a trio format with Albert “Tootie” Heath and a young, understated Ron Carter on bass. A Philadelphia native with a penchant for blues and gospel-influenced playing and composing, Timmons alternates hard-bop compositions (“Topsy,” “So Tired”) with standards (“Autumn Leaves,” “They Didn’t Believe Me”) on this date. The chosen track, “Dat Dere,” is one of two Timmons hard-bop classics (alongside “Moanin’”), and is performed tastefully and flawlessly, if perhaps in need of some Jazz Messenger guest appearances.

January 13, 2008 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver: Filthy McNasty

Though this Horace Silver group contained no outright superstars, their unity and foot-stomping swing made them one of the most solid groups during the hard-bop era. Mitchell and Cook served in Silver’s frontline for over five years—their controlled, energetic choruses are dripping with soulfulness and both men are at their best with Silver’s funky riffing behind them. The enthusiasm doesn’t wane for a moment through the entire tune, and things really get going as Silver digs in. His well-planned choruses build one after another, with each successive chorus a logical response to what was played in the previous. A great introduction to a hard-bop pioneer.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown & Max Roach: Land's End

The Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet was one the premier hard-bop ensembles, with both trumpeter Brown and drummer Roach ranked among the top exponents of their instruments. But the group also had at one time a hard-swinging, soulful tenor man in Harold Land. Although Land was not especially known as a composer, his mournful “Land’s End” is a melodic gem that the quintet, and especially Land and Brown, imbue with great feeling.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey: Crisis

This standout edition of the Jazz Messengers was stocked with not only fantastic improvisers but fine composers as well. Their compositions were often tinged with Eastern modalities, though Blakey’s big beat and ever-present drive kept them groovy. Hubbard’s “Crisis” is powered by Merritt’s funky repetitive bassline and the leader’s volcanic drumming. The difficult descending harmonies are navigated convincingly by all soloists and colored with many emphatic, soulful exclamations. Hubbard displays his distinctive fiery confidence, Shorter takes a more thoughtful approach, and Fuller, while forced to deal with overzealous comping from Walton, adds some well-phrased lyrical blowing. A highlight in the extensive Jazz Messengers discography.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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Benny Golson: Killer Joe (1960) -- alternate review

“Killer Joe” closes “Meet the Jazztet,” an album co-led by trumpeter Art Farmer and saxophonist Benny Golson. A pop-song-length statement of West Coast cool, it became a jukebox hit, thanks to a killer melody and a soulful, laid-back rhythm punctuated by the thick chords of pianist McCoy Tyner. You know this theme, which the horns never stray far from. You’ve heard it in the movies and on TV. The question is: Would the song have ever made it into the broad public consciousness were it not for its gimmick: the spoken-word introduction that informs us the song is in fact about a “hip cat” named Killer Joe who “likes to play the horses” and is “most certainly a ladies man”? It’s doubtful. Still, no complaints here. A great tune is a great tune.

November 02, 2007 · 1 comment

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