Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers

Blue Note Records, 1958

REVIEW BY: George Agnos


Jazz can sometimes be frightening for music fans. Some can't get into it no matter what, and even for the more adventurous souls out there, the question becomes where to start. One of the CD's I would recommend for people interested in jazz is Moanin' by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, especially now that Blue Note Records has released a remastered version of this classic.

The Jazz Messengers were a group that spanned four decades. Drummer Art Blakey was the one constant member in the changing personnel. He had a knack for picking great young talents for his band, and the roster for the Jazz Messengers included such greats as Clifford Brown, Wayne Shorter, and Wynton Marsalis.

Moanin' came out in 1958 and has to be considered a high point for the group. This CD does not waste any time sucking the listener in with the title tune. Pianist Bobby Timmons starts out by engaging the rest of the band in a catchy but bluesy call and response melody, before the individual solos kick in. A particular standout on this tune is trumpeter Lee Morgan, who turns in a performance that is hot yet subtly heartfelt.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"Are You Real?" was written by saxophonist Benny Golson (who wrote all but two of the songs on this CD). It has a wonderful melody and some strong hard bopping by the band. Like much of Moanin', there is an accessibility to the material that is inviting, but there also some imaginative arrangements as well.

"Along Came Betty" slows the pace with a lilting melody and a rhythm that is supposed to imitate a woman's walk. Golson, Timmons and Morgan all perform their solos at a leisurely pace while still playing with passion, not an easy feat.

Next comes "The Thunder Drum Suite", a suite in three parts. The first theme "Drum Thunder" gives Blakey a chance to really show his stuff. He truly gets into a drum frenzy, even using mallets to evoke the sound of thunder. (Rush drummer Neil Peart's next side project should be a Blakey tribute).

The second theme: "Cry A Blue Tear" is a softer, melodic tune and Blakey is able to shift gears and provide a nice Latin rhythm. The third theme, "Harlem's Disciples" has the band going bluesy. Overall, the suite is a nice and unexpected piece for the CD.

"Blues March" is an attempt by the Jazz Messengers to combine bebop with New Orleans style dixieland, and the result is outstanding. Again, the band are able to come up with hot solos while remaining loyal to the marching band rhythm.

There is a cover of the standard "Come Rain Or Come Shine" which gets a light jazz treatment and is a nice way to end the set, except there is a bonus track, an alternate take of "Moanin'" which is inferior to the chosen take only because of Morgan's solo is not as inspired.

Next to Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue, I think that Moanin' is probably the best jazz CD you could get as a newcomer because it is accessible while not compromising talent or intensity. And for jazz fans, it is a must have CD because there are plenty of twists and turns along the way and songs that are memorable and distinct. Moanin' is the best of all worlds.

Rating: A

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© 1999 George Agnos and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Blue Note Records, and is used for informational purposes only.