A Night at Birdland, Vols 1 & 2

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Blue Note
ALBUM TITLE: Art Blakey
PERFORMER: Clifford Brown (t), Lou Donaldson (as), Horace Silver (p), Curly Russell (b), Art Blakey (d)
CATALOGUE NO: 5 32146 2, 5 32147 2

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These two Art Blakey sets were recorded just as hard bop was establishing itself as the central force of Fifties jazz and as Blakey was establishing himself as a key performer within it. The Birdland set from February 1954 actually pre-dates the famous Jazz Messengers, but the ethos remains the same: hard swinging blues and jazz originals contrasted by a Broadway ballad.

The material on this two-album set, from the moment it appeared in their edited original form as three ten-inch albums, was regarded as a classic. This was due to the presence of the enormously gifted trumpeter Clifford Brown, yet at this early stage of his career he did not entirely overshadow the to-the-point playing of Lou Donaldson, the burgeoning talent of Horace Silver or Blakey’s own inspirational drumming.

Almost two years later, Blakey formed the then co-operative Jazz Messengers, and this first recording of a group that continued to be a forcing house of jazz talent until Blakey’s death in 1990 lays claim as the spiritual home of the hard bop sound; it’s dark tone colours, blues inflected playing and powerful intensity is captured at a peak in the drummer’s career.

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These jazz classics, fly-on-the-wall documents of jazz history in the making, should be in everyone’s collection, and make other album issues redundant with the magnificent clarity of 24-bit resolution. Stuart Nicholson