The Jazz Messengers

Art Blakey

The Jazz Messengers

The Jazz Messengers

Donald Byrd, trumpet; Hank Mobley, tenor sax; Horace Silver, piano;
Doug Watkins, bass; Art Blakey, drums.

1. Infra-Rae (Hank Mobley) 6:54
2. Nica's Dream (Horace Silver) 11:49
3. It's You Or No One (Styne--Cahn) 5:33
4. Ecaroh (Horace Silver) 6:00
5. Carol's Interlude (Hank Mobley) 5:33
6. The End Of A Love Affair (E.C. Redding) 6:41
7. Hank's Symphony (Hank Mobley) 4:36
8. Ill Wind [mp3] (Arlen) 2:55
Cover Photo by DON HUNSTEIN
Recording by TONY JANICK
Recorded on April 6, 1956

One of the best groups to emerge during the period when modern jazz decided that swing was not only not old-fashioned but a highly desirable commodity is the Jazz Messengers, a co-operative unit organized in early 1955. The musicians in this album form the personnel which has borne the Messenger banner during most of the unit's career. They domonstrate, in these free-wheeling performances, that small-combo jazz can be arranged with plenty of room for improvisation, and whith carefully worked-out ideas to set the group in a different setting in each number.

The material in this collection consists of two rarely-heard ballads and five originals (by Horace Silver and Hank Mobley). Variety is the keynote here, even though the group contains only five musicians and all the perfomances are more than usually long. Frequent and varied use of a latin beat helps make some of this bossible; more often, it is in the ensemble writing and the dynamic improvising of the soloists.

Expositions of themes invariably make rich use of the many resources of the group. Often a shifting rhythmica pattern is set up under the first chorus, changing to a swinging 4/4 when the solo section comes in. Even then, contrapuntal passages here and there--as in the unexpected but tension-building cross rhythms set up by Silver and Blakey midway in Mobley's solo of "Infra-Rae"--are frequently used to keep the listener pleasantly off-ballance. "Infra-Rae," incidentally, is a capsule distillation of the whole Jazz Messengers approach. It contains a little of everythin the group does, including Blakey's showmanship drumming. he has few equals either as a backer for soloists, as an ensemble musician, or as a soloist himself.

"Nica's Dream," with its ever-changing rhythm patterns, is one of Horace Silver's best compositions, and his solo is filled with unexpected facets of this gifted musician's imagination. Throughout this album, Silver again shows that he can run the gamut from the esoteric to the downright gutbucket.

Some of the ensemble playing in "Nica's Dream" having indicated that the Messengers can interpret ballads without losing the jazz feel, it should be no surprise that "It's You Or No One" should turn into an all-out jazz piece. "Ecaroh" is another strange Silver piece, exploring still more possiblities of this unusual quintet. Few jazz writers have so successfully brought mysterioso qualities in close contact with free-swinging music.

"Carol's Interlude" is an oddly-constructed Mobley original which unexpectedly lends itself to loose improvisation. "The End Of A Love Affair" finds the Messengers again using Latin-American rhythms to kick off a fine pop tune. "Hank's Symphony" is another imaginative Mobley tune, leading through several contrasting sections, with the spotlight on some spectacular drum solos. It is frankly a showpiece for Blakey, who has, however, many more things to do in it than a drummber usually does in a solo number.

The group got its name from a big band called the Messengers which Art Blakey led at times from 1948 to 1950. It is also derived from an expression which became common among musicians about "getting the message" when a band or a soloist plays. Blakey, in an interview with Nat Hentoff in Down Beat in 1956, explained further. "When we're on the stand, and we see that there are people in the audience who aren't patting their feet and who aren't nodding their heads to our music, we know we're doing something wrong. Because when we do get our message across, those heads and feed do move."

Blakey and Silver are the best-known members of the group. Both have played with virtually all the top musicians of the modern-jazz scene. Mobley has been around much less, but a tenure with Dizzy Gillespie's small group served to establish him with the New York crowd. Donald Byrd and Doug Watkins are relatively new; both come from Detroit, which has become in recent years a fertile source of new blood for small jazz combos. Already Byrd is established as one of the best young trumpet players, and Watkins has earned an enviable position as one of the best bassists to come along in years.

--GEORGE AVAKIAN, from the liner notes

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