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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, Marc Bridle, John Eyles, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke


Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers




Recorded Live at Umbria Jazz, 20July 1976

  1. Backgammon
  2. Along came betty
  3. Uranus
  4. Blues march
  5. All the Things You Are
  6. Gipsy Folk Tales

Art Blakey – Drums
David Schmitter – Tenor Sax
Bill Hardman – Trumpet
Mickey Tucker – Piano
Cameron Brown – Bass

Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers was the band where many of today’s jazz superstars learned their craft. Wayne Shorter, Hank Mobley, Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw, Chuck Mangione and the Marsalis Brothers are just a few.

Blakey who started out as a pianist, had been the drummer in the bands of Fletcher Henderson and Billy Eckstine, before forming with Horace Silver the first Jazz Messengers in 1954. This recording then was some 22 years on and he carried on until he died in 2002, always employing outstanding young musicians and inspiring them to exceptional heights of improvisation. He was a hard taskmaster who demanded and got 100% effort from everyone, every night. As he always gave 120% effort it was not unreasonable. The Messengers style became known as ‘hard bop’ and they spawned a host of other bands playing in that style.

This session was recorded in the open air, but the sound quality is good, having been digitally re-mastered for this DVD.

Backgammon has an introductory solo from Blakey, followed by a theme statement from the band and some exciting trumpet work from Bill Hardman, who like David Schmitter who follows, starts quietly and builds to a climax at the end of the solo. Mickey Tucker on piano solos with great ideas and technique before Blakey leads the band back into the theme. This is classic Jazz Messengers; ‘hard bop’ at it’s best, creative and exciting.

Along Came Betty has the two horns in unison and again Hardman plays the first solo, the sleeve note mentions free improvisation, I suspect that may be wishful thinking on the part of someone who likes that sort of thing. These guys thankfully stay around the original sequence. Bass player Cameron Brown comes into his own on this number and what a contribution he makes, great big sound, solid technique and a constant feed of ideas to the front line. How good it is to hear the real double bass and not bass guitar.

Uranus has Schmitter as first soloist and the rhythm section drives him on in a seemingly endless flow of improvisations, before Hardman continues in a similar vein. They are well matched and sound comfortable and happy playing together. Blakey as always drives the soloists to great heights with a barrage of ideas to kick them along.

Blues March is a Jazz Messengers classic, but this version taken at a faster tempo than the original, is ideal jazz festival material and demonstrates the group’s superb ability with the blues.

All the Things You Are is a feature for Mickey Tucker on Piano, it starts slowly in a ‘Tatumesque’ mode, goes Latin and even has a few bars of stride piano. Mickey Tucker is an outstanding pianist, he has a solid technique, great improvisational skills and his backings to the other soloists are first class.

Gipsy Folk Tales is in the classic Jazz Messengers mould, busy ensembles played hard, followed by good solos driven along by this superb rhythm section. I have not heard this edition of the Messengers before, but if TDK have another set in their archives, I hope they release it soon.

Don Mather




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