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For me, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers have always been an
example of a quintessential Hardbop group, regardless of who
was in it, at any given time. As with Miles Davis, many of the
musicians who played with Blakey have gone on to impressive
careers as bandleaders in their own right. However, unlike Davis,
Blakey never seemed to encourage the type of playing that
“pushed the boundaries” of Jazz, instead preferring to adhere
to a “straight ahead” format, which was popular with most
listeners. Needless to say, there’s nothing wrong with this
approach, and you could always depend upon his music to
swing. What’s more, the solos performed by Blakey’s various band
members were always stimulating and satisfying. His aim was
to make good music, while keeping a strong toehold in
Jazz traditions.

Based upon this 1961 Impulse! recording, I’d say that he
succeeds admirably. In addition to Blakey on drums, this
incarnation of the Jazz Messengers featured Lee Morgan on
trumpet, Curtis Fuller on trombone, Wayne Shorter on tenor sax,
Bobby Timmons on piano, and Jymie Merritt on bass. Engineered
by Rudy Van Gelder, this disc is simply titled,
“Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers,” and consists of six
numbers in varying tempi, from a set of standard tunes.

The playing was always engaging and performed with an
“ear to entertain.” I found it interesting to hear Wayne Shorter’s
performance, particularly in light of what I’ve heard in his later
work as a member of Miles Davis’ second great quintet, and
as a leader of his own various groups, not to mention
Weather Report. This outing was probably the earliest example
of Shorter’s playing that I’ve heard. Here, he played in a
traditional Hardbop style, without the challenging harmonic
language I’d become accustomed to hearing in his work
with Miles Davis. There was little evidence of the terse,
adventurous Jazz stylings that would later make Shorter
famous. His sound reminded me of John Coltrane, and his
playing demonstrated a clear command of the traditional Hardbop
language, with few clues foretelling the player he would become.
He sounded great within this traditional format, and I’ve always
found it interesting to trace the development of a great musician
from his earliest years.

I’ve always also been intrigued by trumpeter Lee Morgan, and
he didn’t disappoint me either. In fact, I could say the same thing
about all of the other players. This set represents
straightforward Hardbop at its best, and is a 1996 reissue on CD.