ART BAKYKEY’S JAZZ MESSENGERS: UGETSU
ART BLAKEY’S JAZZ MESSENGERS
Freddie Hubbard (tp) Curtis Fuller (tb) Wayne Shorter (ts) Cedar Walton (p) Reggie Workman (b) Art Blakey (drs)
‘live’ at Birdland, NYC; June 16, 1963
One by One (6:19) RM(S9)-464 M-47008
Ugetsu (11:05) - -
Time off (4:58) - -
Ping-Pong (8:07) - -
I Didn’t Know What Time It Was (6:30) - -
On the Ginza (7:07) - -
The Theme (1:43) M-47016
The High Priest (5:24)
Difficult as it may be to believe, one of America’s foremost small-band drummers (and the band leader at that!) has led his group through the recording of an entire album, did it in front of a hip New York nightclub audience – and did not even once take a drum solo! The startling proof of this is in this very album of performances by the always-amazing Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers!
But even more significant than the mere fact of this rare act of self-control is that Art’s apparent ‘stepping aside’ (and the thinking behind it) is really the key to the success of this album and this band. Although Blakey does not solo here, he is clearly (as Riverside A & R man Orrin Keepnews expressed it to me) “a vitally present part of things”. I’d even take it one step further and call him the vitally present start of things. Art’s brilliant sense of time, his tremendous drive and power, his excellent taste, his feeling of complete authority and mystery of his instrument, can’t help but start things and, most definitely, keep them going. When you combine these Blakey attributes with his untypical willingness to share the spotlight, and his almost unfailing ability to recognize up-and-coming talent, it’s hardly surprising that the fire-filled Jazz Messengers unit has been among the most influential in modern jazz since the early 1950s. Not only influential in terms of its stature as a group, but also in the caliber of musicians it has produced. A partial list of Messenger alumni would include Horace Silver, Benny Golson, Kee Morgan, Bobby Timmons – and the present lineup certainly maintains previous standards.
Which brings us back to this album. Like many others recorded at Birdland, this one opens with the voice of the club’s inimitable and ubiquitous master of ceremonies, Pee Wee Marquette. Up to that point, then, it’s nothing unusual. But after those first ten seconds or so there follows a degree of fire-power and cohesiveness that is highly different from what could be considered usual at Birdland or anyplace else.
The opening tune, a Wayne Shorter composition called One by One, features an extremely pretty melody that succeeds in being light-and-bright and funky at one and the same time. It lopes along at a relaxed tempo, with some very nice work by Freddie Hubbard and some very complementary fills by Blakey. It is followed by the album’s title tune, the intriguingly-named Ugetsu (as Art explained, that’s Japanese for “fantasy”, one of two references here to the band’s recent tour of that jazz-conscious country). A brilliantly lyrical Hubbard solo is the standout feature of this number for me. And dig composer Cedar Walton’s underlying theme pulsating throughout the piece. A Curtis Fuller original, Time Off,close Side 1; it’s a happy, up-tempo piece that shows Shorter in his best chord-dissecting form and also offers a fine example of Blakey in a light, yet forceful and driving vein.
Side 2 opens with Shorter’s Ping-Pong, all dressed up in a new rhythmic setting that I’d describe as a kind of Charleston with a sort of Latin feeling … In any case, I think you’ll find it a firm toe-tapper, most rewarding both rhythmically and melodically. Next is a spotlight on Shorter as a ballad soloist on the great standard, I Didn’t Know What Time It Was. (And dig the really big sound whenever the ensemble breaks through to punctuate Wayne’s remarks.) Finally, there’s another reference to Japan, in yet another Shorter composition, On the Ginza, which does seem to build a sound picture of modern Tokyo. (The emphasis on Wayne’s writing here, incidentally, underlines his importance to the group as its “musical director”.) in introducing this one, Art trots out one of his happiest cliches:” … on this tune we feature … no one in particular.”
“… No one in particular…” except the stars of the whole album – five of the swinging-est young men on the jazz scene today, and their unfailingly talented “old man”, Art Blakey.
This group can also be heard on Riverside on –
Caravan: Art Blakey and The Messengers (438; stereo 9438)
Established in 1950 , Birdland is one of the very oldest jazz clubs in the county, and by far the most famous. from Charlie Parker, the room has stayed close to that original concept; virtually every modern jazz figure of importance has been featured there, and by now Birdland has come to symbolize jazz even for people who have never been near its 52nd Street-and-Broadway location.
While this album marks Riverside’s recording debut at this club, it is a continuation of the label’s long-standing policy of frequent “live” recordings in a variety of rooms, in the belief that some of the most exciting jazz can be produced by catching top artists ace-to-face with their audiences. Previous “on the spot” LPs, recorded in The Workshop in San Francisco, New York’s Village Vanguard and elsewhere, have featured such as Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Wes Montgomery. Birdland and Blakey, we think , make most fitting additions to this roster.
NOTE: 6 titles of RM(S9)-464 also on OJC-090, SMJ-6164, VIJ-148
all 9 titles also on OJCCD-090-2, VICJ-23770CD, VICJ-60479CD, UCCO-9135CD
RM(S9)-464 “Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers at Birdland: Ugetsu”
Produced by Orrin Keepnews; recording Engineer: Dave Jones
Notes written by Ed Sherman. Cover design and photo by Ken Deardoff; back-liner photo by Steve Schapiro.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.