Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: TDK
WORKS: 1976 concert, Perugia, Italy
CATALOGUE NO: DV-JAOR

Advertisement

Master craftsman Gil Evans draws together some great artists for this immensely satisfying 1983 concert from Lugano’s Palazzo dei Congressi. The brothers Brecker, Herb Geller, Benny Bailey and Billy Cobham are among those giving their all in tunes by Monk, Mingus, Hendrix and Gershwin, as well as a handful of Evans originals. There’s virtuoso work, too, from Howard Johnson, whose baritone spits and splutters like a zombie risen from the grave in the teasingly spooky ‘Friday the 13th’. And John Clark’s French horn amazes in Hendrix’s ‘Stone Free’ and Evans’s hard, driving ‘Variation on the Misery’.

These two tracks are separated perfectly by a jewel of a ‘Waltz’, supple and slinky and all the more clever when an astute cameraman, hunting down the printed music, confirms it as being in duple time. Evans closes with Gershwin — a hushed, delicate ‘Honey Man’ and a snatch of ‘Gone’ to play out the disc — immediately bringing to mind his brilliant charts for Miles of Porgy and Bess way back in 1958. Back to 1976 for the Umbria Jazz Festival. A warm summer evening in Perugia’s old Piazza Italia and Art Blakey’s Messengers quintet is cooking up some hard bop with the finest of mellow edges.

The one standard of real vintage, All the Things You Are’, gets a glittering, sprightly trio treatment to make it stand out all the more from the hard-blowing Blakey favourites by Walter Davis Jr and Benny Golson, the latter’s catchy Along Came Betty’ being a standout. Nobody did more than Blakey to get the best out of young talent, and there’s impressive soloing on this disc from pianist Mickey Tucker, bassist Cameron Brown and tenor player David Schnitter. The sound isn’t bad for outdoors, though the picture quality shows occasional lapses. Forward again to the Palazzo in Lugano, the night before the Evans gig, for a starry trio of Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Billy Cobham.

TDK doesn’t give any track credits — indeed the documentation is variable throughout this series -but at least we have a full 90 minutes on this disc, and Hancock sticks to his Bosendorfer throughout. Some excellent camerawork shows the great communication between all three players, but this is very much the pianist’s night. He begins teasing out unusual harmonies in the slow ‘Little Waltz’, evoking Bill Evans, Debussy and Ravel, and ends the tune with a tiptoeing pianissimo.

Advertisement

And after Carter’s fascinating deconstruction of ‘Willow Weep for Me’, Hancock launches into a solo interpretation of his lovely ‘Dolphin Dance’, creating a rhapsody from huge blocks of sound and the most delicate of runs. Other highpoints are the newly composed ‘Princess’, given a beautiful, luminous reading, and a cheeky ‘Walking’ to close. Peter Somerford