Thursday, May 17, 2012

Addendum to Jazz Messenger albums

Shortly after posting Some of my favorite Jazz Messenger albums Part 1 and the follow-on Part 2 I discovered an eight CD bundle titled Art Blakey: 8 Classic Ablums.

This collection of albums contains some of the top work released by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (with two albums by Blakey without the Jazz Messengers.)

The period is one 1958 Jazz Messenger album, followed by two 1959 Blakey albums, and the rest clustered in the 1960-1961 timeframe. The ensembles are among the best Blakey ever assembled for the Jazz Messengers, with many of the albums based on the Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Bobby Timmons and Jymie Merritt edition of the Jazz Messengers.

Here they are in order of release:

  • 1958: Moanin' (The Rudy Van Gelder Edition). This is one of the all-time classic Jazz Messenger albums that every fan should own.
  • 1959: Holiday for Skins, Vol. 1 and Holiday for Skins, Vol. 2. Blakey without the Jazz Messengers. An interesting study in Afro-Cuban grooves that is probably more relevant today than when it was released. I can guess that this may have had a big impact on Elvin Jones. The line-up is interesting because it contains two other highly regarded and influential drummers: Philly Joe Jones and Art Taylor.
The rest of the albums feature the great Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Bobby Timmons and Jymie Merritt line-up.As you can see, there are no real duds in this collection,although Holiday Skins volumes 1 and 2 may not appeal to Jazz Messenger fans, but drummers will get a lot from them. Even if you never listen to those two you are still getting a bargain by purchasing this set over each album individually. And as a drummer the two Holiday Skins CDs are an added bonus.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Some of my favorite Jazz Messenger albums Part 2

Continuing from Part 1, this list of favorite albums will cover two I neglected to include in the previous post, and my favorites from the early 60s European tour.

Omissions from Part 1: At The Jazz Corner Of The World (Volume 1 and Volume 2) is a live album recorded live in Birdland in 1959. The opening intro by Pee Wee is inauspicious in that there seems to be few in the audience and you are expecting far less than this album delivers. By the second track that notion is completely dispelled. See my complete review for details. The next live Birdland album, a year later, Meet You At The Jazz Corner Of The World, is a worthy successor and features both Lee Morgan on trumpet and Wayne Shorter on tenor. I wrote a brief review that can be summed up as: if you are a Lee Morgan fan, you need to get this album..

European Tour albums. My favorite, hands down, is Live in Zurich 1958. Of the nearly 102 minutes of white hot, high energy playing there is not a dud among the tracks, and I will put any track here against the same song on any other Jazz Messenger album. Take track 1, Bird's "Now is the Time". Blakey starts with one of his trademark thundering intros. Then Bobby Timmons' extended piano solo locked in with Jymie Merritt's bass takes the track to the stratosphere. Blakey lays back and gets under the solo, then Lee Morgan enters with his trumpet on fire. That is just the first track. It sets the tone and pace for the rest of this album, making it one of the hidden gems of the Jazz Messengers' body of recorded work. See my complete review.
My next favorite is At Club Saint-Germain Volumes 1 to 3. Lee Morgan had recently joined the group and was playing with white hot energy, fitting in as though he had been with them forever, and Golson on tenor is one of my personal favorites as well. Indeed, the chemistry between and among the musicians is evident on every track, making for a great two hours of listening. My complete review was written before I had discovered the Live in Zurich 1958 album.
Another great album is Jazz In Paris - 1958 Paris Olympia that is certainly next to the Club Saint-Germain album for Paris (but third behind the Zurich 1958 album.) The line up is Art Blakey (drums), Benny Golson (tenor saxophone); Lee Morgan (trumpet), Bobby Timmons (piano) and Jimmy Merritt (bass). There are rumors that Bud Powell sat in, but I cannot find any evidence of that and since the piano does not change throughout the tracks, I truly believe that Bobby Timmons was the sole pianist. My complete review details why I like this album. Also note that Olympia Concert is the same album that is minus the last two tracks (Blues March and Whisper Not)
The final album is Paris Jam Session. This is 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. More details are contained in my Amazon review.

Wrapping up, I want to provide a few recommended videos that Blakey and Jazz Messenger fans should appreciate:

I am going to end this post with a link to a page that contains the full audio of Live in Zurich 1958: Newstalgia Labor Day Jazz Concert - Art Blakey Jazz Messengers - Live In Zurich 1958. Enjoy.

Some quick recommendations for brushwork

To get up to speed on technique I have a list of learning videos on my other blog. However, if you are seeking some excellent examples, I recommend the following:
  • Good Night and Good Luck, which is the soundtrack to the movie of the same title. Dianne Reeves is backed by a small ensemble that includes brush master Jeff Hamilton. See complete review for more details.
  • The video, Diana Krall Live in Paris, also features Hamilton and contains some excellent shots of him playing brushes (and sticks.) Also see review of that video.
  • The Red Garland Trio's The Ultimate Collection features Art Taylor on drums. Most tracks are brushes and the album is 4.5 hours long. Art is one of the most prolific jazz drummers from his era and a brush master who merits close study.
  • There are two Anita O'Day videos that I highly recommend because they clearly show John Poole's playing. John was one of the all time great brush masters and, like Art Talyor, merits close study. The videos are: Jazz Icons: Anita O'Day Live in '63 & '70 (see my review). The '63 portion of the concert is Sweden and has John Poole on drums with some excellent shots of him playing. Also, some excellent footage of John is in Anita O'Day - Live at Ronnie Scott's (see my review.)
Finally, for playalong I recommend Nat King Cole Trio boxed set, which I have comprehensively reviewed on this page, and Teddy Wilson's Blues for Thomas Waller. My reasons for recommending the last album are outlined on this page.

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.