Jazz Icons: Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers features what many consider to be one of the finest line-ups in the history of jazz—Art Blakey (Drums), Bobby Timmons (Piano), Jymie Merritt (Bass), Benny Golson (Sax) and the legendary trumpet player, Lee Morgan. Lost for nearly 50 years, this historic 55-minute concert, filmed in Belgium in 1958, one month to the day after they recorded their masterpiece Moanin', is the only known visual document of this influential band who were together for only six months.
Most of the titles on this album are derived from Thelonious Monk's vast catalog of bop standards. Both co-leaders are at the peak of their respective prowess with insightful interpretations of nearly half a dozen inspired performances from this incarnation of the Blakey-led Jazz Messengers. This combo features Art Blakey (drums), Johnny Griffin (tenor sax), Bill Hardman (trumpet), and Spanky Debrest (bass). Immediately, Hardman ups the ante with a piledriving lead during "Evidence" that underscores the heavy-hitting nature of this particular jazz confab. Monk counters with some powerful and inspired runs that are sonically splintered by the enthusiastic – if not practically percussive – chord progressions and highly logistic phrasings from the pianist. The inherent melodic buoyancy on "In Walked Bud" contains a springboard-like quality, with Griffin matching Monk's bounce measure for measure.
Drummer Art Blakey led many great editions of the Jazz Messengers from the inaugural mid-'50s sessions until his death in the '90s. While arguments rage regarding which was his best, there is no doubt that the 1960-1961 unit figures in the debate. This wonderful six-disc set, notated with care and painstaking detail by Bob Blumenthal, covers studio and live sessions from March 6, 1960, to May 27, 1961, with the same personnel on all but two songs. Producer Michael Cuscuna used only first issue dates, and while he included some alternate takes, he did not litter the discs with second-rate vault material. They smoothly detail the band's evolution, cohesion, and maturation. This set, as with all Mosaic boxes, goes beyond essential. Get it post haste.
An early Blakey line-up in the years before Mobley/Timmons came on the scene – late 1957. Lets get real here, there is no world shortage of Art Blakey records. The interest is in Hardman and Griffin, a punchy and vigorous front line.
While not a universally praised piece of the Art Blakey discography, The African Beat is quite engaging. Yusef Lateef is the only horn player, featured on oboe, flute, tenor sax, cow horn, and thumb piano with Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass, but trombonist Curtis Fuller is only heard playing tympani – it was that kind of session. The drum ensemble includes Chief Bey, along with five other percussionists on conboro, log, and bata drums with penny whistles, gongs, congas, and African maracas. This is reminiscent of Lateef's more exotic sessions from the same time period, but quite unlike other Blue Note releases from the early '60s.