Monday, May 14, 2012

Some of my favorite Jazz Messenger albums Part 1

It's been over two years since a tragic event depleted me of any desire to write. However, for the past month I have been writing reviews on Amazon and am ready to rejoin the world.

This will be part 1 of a two part series about my favorite Jazz Messenger albums. What draws me to the Jazz Messengers is not as much Art Blakey's playing as much as some of the musicians who were members over the years. Indeed, while Blakey's drumming did inspire and influence generations of drummers who came after him, it was his philosophy of nurturing talented musicians to the point where they were ready to go out and start their own ensembles. This mentor/incubator approach significantly contributed to the personal growth of numerous musicians who went on to add to the music and keep it alive. See Alan Goldsher's excellent book, Hard Bop Academy for more about that aspect of Art's contributions. As an aside, here is an interesting story about Blakey and how Dizzy Gillespie mentored him on drums.

On to the albums. I am going to cover some of the early albums that I own and spend countless hours enjoying in this post. In my next post I will cover up to the early 1960s.

Horace Silver & the Jazz Messengers: Silver and Blakey are the anchors whose collective vision is projected into the music. Moreover, the Silver-Blakey imprint is reinforced by the fact that Silver wrote every composition on the album except Hankerin', which is Mobley's brianchild.
The music here is the template for that was to follow from the Jazz Messengers. You can hear echoes of most of the tracks in subsequent compositions on Jazz Messenger albums. See my complete review for more depth and details.

A Night At Birdland, Vol. 1: What makes this album special to me is Clifford Brown. I cannot seem to get enough of him. However, this album also introduced me to Lou Donaldson who quickly became of of my favorite alto saxophonists. His rich tone seems to fill the room and his aggressive playing sets each track on fire. The rhythm section is rock solid. Silver as both a composer and virtuoso pianist makes a significant contribution to making this album a classic. Curly Russel's bass provides a grooving bottom. Blakey's incorporation of African drumming techniques (sliding timbre on toms by using his elbow on drum heads and bells and clicks) add yet another dimension to the music. See the complete review.

A Night At Birdland, Vol. 2: Unlike volume 1 where Clifford Brown's playing was more in the spotlight, this volume features a more integrated approach to playing. That isn't to say that Clifford gets lost in the mix. However Donaldson, Silver, Russell and Blakey are more pronounced, and there is an opportunity to study the harmonic genius of both Clifford Brown and Lou Donaldson. See the complete review.

Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers With Thelonius Monk: This album was made in 1958, containing some of my favorite Monk tunes, all of which was played with the energy and musicianship that would have done a live performance credit.
Personnel on this session were: Monk and Blakey on piano and drums, respectively, Bill Hardman on trumpet, the great Johnny Griffin on tenor saxophone and Spanky DeBrest on bass.
This is the original version of the album (in 1999 a reissue album added alternate takes of Evidence, Blue Monk and I Mean You. Personally, I prefer this original version, and sincerely believe that the renditions on this album of what are some of Monk's best compositions are among the best ever recorded in a studio. If you are strictly a Jazz Messenger fan, this is a good addition to your collection. If you are a Monk fan I recommend grabbing it.

At The Cafe Bohemia, Vol. 1: The line-up is one of my favorite Jazz Messenger musicians. Like Horace Silver & the Jazz Messengers, this group had two of the most criminally underrated musicians (Dorham and Mobley), a world class bassist whose life was cut short, and the founding fathers - Blakey and Silver. See the complete review.

At The Cafe Bohemia, Vol. 2: Like Volume 1, my attraction to this performance is as much the musicians as the music. The highly underrated Kenny Dorham and Hank Mobley have long been my favorites, and I consider Doug Watkins to be one of the best bassists of his era. Indeed, I think that had Watkins' life not been cut short he would have been ranked as one of the all-time greats. See the complete review.

Moanin': The one album I associate with Blakey. In addition to Lee Morgan, having Benny Golson on this album is practically icing on the cake. As a drummer I love Golson's "Blues March", which Blakey makes come alive as only Blakey can. Another favorite is "Are You Real". See the complete review.

Unforgettable Lee! (Lee Morgan with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers Live at Birdland): The tracks were recorded on more than one Birdland date spanning the spring and summer of 1960, but the line-up is the same on most of the tracks. The only time the line-up varies is with pianists, and I do not know who played on which tracks. Personnel: Lee Morgan (trumpet), Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone), Walter Davis, Jr. and Bobby Timmons (piano), Jymie Merritt (bass), and, of course, Art Blakey (drums). See the complete review.

Free For All
: For a studio album this captures a rare energy (and synergy) for any ensemble (not just the Jazz Messengers), and is one of the hardest swinging albums any edition of the Messengers cut - in or out of the studio. See the complete review.

Tomorrow I will wrap this up with part 2, covering some European concerts (mainly Paris and Zurich.) For drummers who want to get deeper into Blakey's playing I recommend Jazz Messages (with CD) by John Ramsay, which provides anecdotes and information about Art, as well as transcriptions and an analysis of his playing. For more about Blakey himself, see Leslie Gourse's book, Art Blakey: Jazz Messenger.


Jon McCaslin said...

Welcome back Mike!!!

Jon McCaslin

Four on the Floor

Mike Tarrani said...

Thank you Jon. I think I am here to stay. It's been a difficult two years.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the great reviews, I am going to have to check out "Unforgettable Lee".