Selection: Hammer Head (Shorter)
. . .
Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) Curtis Fuller (trombone) Wayne Shorter (tenor sax) Cedar Walton (piano) Reggie Workman (bass) Art Blakey (drums) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, February 10, 1964
Hubbard’s last recording with The Messengers, and nearing the end of Shorter’s long apprenticeship, the changing face over a decade documented here, I think it bears repetition:
Through the addition of Curtis Fuller in 1961, the sextet format remained Blakey’s most enduring powerhouse, and in the title track Free for All, The Messengers make full use of the three horn frontline, no-one gets to sleep. With the soloist of the moment blazing away, the other horns joust in unison, harmony or counterpoint seeking to capture the flag, then exchange places to continue the battle, it is exhausting but thrilling as each soloists fights to stay in command. Underneath the front-line, Blakey is on fire, incendiary, thunderous, relentless, leaving Cedar Walton to assert the rhythmic drive with his percussive staccato attack on the keys, while Reggie Workman holds the supporting terrain together. Phew!
For the selection, Hammer Head, I’ve opted for something a little less fierce, as the 11 minute title track isn’t well suited to listening on a phone or PC, you need something with matching force, like several hundred watts of moving air, slap you in the face. You simply don’t mess with Shorter-Hubbard-Fuller, soon to go their separate ways, but formidable together in the Blakey line-up, something never again repeated.
Blue Note Spotlite picks up the common “blazing” theme :
Free for All is a transcendent four-track album that gets its name from the raucous Shorter original that energetically opens the show. It’s literally an extended musical free-for-all that takes its visceral cue from the otherworldly, ecstatic Shorter solo that commands almost half of the song’s 11-minute surge. Fuller follows Shorter with fire, with Hubbard grasping the flaming baton and being cheered on to fly toward the blazing sun. Blakey, who throughout bashes with incendiary beauty, goes ballistic on his exclamatory solo that climaxes the outing before the band returns to the horn-fuelled theme.
Bring out the fire extinguisher! It is not “free jazz” but a raucous free-for-all within a structure, treading the boundary between inside and out. It is not easy listening due to its multi-instrument intensity, but it is exhilarating, especially played loud (as long as the neighbours are out) . The mono really stretches the cones, I swear I saw smoke rising from the speakers.
Vinyl: BLP 4170
NY labels, Plastylite ear, mono VAN GELDER, DG Side 1.
Cover a little grubby, but basically sound, apart for one owners name and date of purchase: 1967, though this was released in 1965, and needed to make its way across the Atlantic.
There is such a lot happening, Van Gelder must have had his hands full in the studio with all the dials touching red. This is not delicate intellectual chamber jazz, this is dense big-band complex and urgent cacophony with instruments of varying dynamic force.
I like the mono because in this context I want simultaneous intensity, not simulated spatial information. Blakey should be underneath everything, not parked on one side. The instruments should be layered not isolated. I really don’t want to know if Curtis Fuller on the left or right channel, I want him in the mix vertically, I think the mono achieves this a the way stereo does not, however each to his own.
I have lots of Blakey albums already, and you always ask: do I need another? A Stereo Liberty graced my shelves for some years, but rarely played. However the chance to upgrade to Plastylite mono was too good to pass up. A good decision, feeling the plaster falling from the ceiling.
I noted with interest that legendary Nigerian Afrobeat drummer, 76 year old Tony Allen, is appearing at the Nice Jazz Festival in France shortly, under the title “Tribute to Art Blakey“. Small world just got smaller, Allen has released a mini- album for…of all people…Blue Note.
John Lewis review , The Guardian, May 18, 2017
“The four track EP was recorded live in Allen’s current hometown of Paris and features a fiery 7-piece band interpreting the Jazz Messengers classics “Moanin’,” “A Night In Tunisia,” “Politely” and “Drum Thunder Suite” through an Afrobeat prism. The EP was produced by Vincent Taurelle”.
I might just have to give this a listen. But oh dear…….what’s this I see…not even The Evil Silver Disc™, but the devil’s spawn, Downloads:
That’s more like it. Proper music belongs on vinyl.
LJC Opinion: Oddly, Journalists looking to file 500 words on “Art Blakey and African music” cite Blakey albums which are in my view his least impressive , including Orgy in Rhythm, Vols. 1-2 , which features five percussionsts, the lacklustre Herbie Mann on flute and one track on which on which Blakey sings, described euphemistically by All Music as “mostly for specialized tastes“. Of the others, two volumes, Holiday for Skins, which is little better, and Solomon Ilori And His Afro-Drum Ensemble. Drumming albums aside there are the twenty or so great Blue Note Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers titles, which go unmentioned. Blakey was not only a great drummer, he was also a great band leader, which is something more, and an incubator of extraordinary talent. Some examples:
Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers: Freedom Rider
Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers: Indestructible
Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers: Mosaic
Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers: Night in Tunisia
Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers: At The Jazz Corner of the World Vol 2
Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers: Buhaina’s Delight
Just a few to mention, in passing. Thank you for reading and commenting, that’s what it’s all about. LJC now approaching three million page views. You see, there’s no interest in mouldy old vinyl or modern jazz, apparently.