Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers Live at Kimball’s

   Transmissions and registrations of live performances were factors that made jazz so perfectly fitting for the radio and gramophone records. Since first live appearance in 1954, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers were registered on dozens of great live recordings. At this point it is good to recall one of first live recording commercially published in history of the jazz. It was A Night at Birdland from February 1954, signed The Art Balkey Quintet, with Horace Silver, Clifford Brown, Lou Donaldson and Curly Russell. For series of historic Jazz Messengers’ live gigs, becoming one of basic lines in the history of modern jazz, we should include this live recording of evening at Kimball’s in San Francisco on April 13, 1985. This time Art Blakey was in sextet with trumpeter Terence Blanchard, alto saxophone player Donald Harrison, pianist Mulgrew Miller, bassist Lonnie Plaxico and Jean  Toussaint playing the tenor saxophone. As more than dozen Jazz Messengers lineups before it was again the group of young and very young musicians – three of them were 25, Blanchard was 24 and Miller was 30. Record was published in 1986 by Concord label (CJ-307). 

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers Live at Kimball’s

   The unquestionable star of Messengers was always Art Blakey. His drive, magnetism and artistic attitude was so attracting for musicians playing with Messengers, it became legendary. In 1885 he was 66, but thank to his young friends he was still active and creative musician. His solo in Jody is so vital as it can be definition of modern jazz drumming. His great intuition helped him to choose the best young personalities. This lineup has two highly promising young artists: pianist Mulgrew Miller and trumpet player Terence Blanchard. And both of them could be easily called the leader of this incorporation of Jazz Messengers idea.
   Mulgrew Miller is very flexible artist. The performance published on this record has been recorded when he was at his thirties. Still young but yet independent, possesing technical knowledge but still creative.  Maybe this is why his piano technique was so close to the masters techniques, especially to the one by Oscar Peterson but in the same moment so personal and searching. Even at this point Miller’s playing was slightly more modal and harmonically progressive. Miller’s solo in Jody makes good work for the whole Messengers’ performance. Profound sound and subtle phrasing gave him position of the starring pianist and maybe the proper place for him was to be the leader of the Messengers. On second side of the album he plays solo Old Folks, and in You and the Night and the Music he is joined by basist Lonnie Plaxico and Art Blakey. Third song of the B-side, Polka Dots and Moonbeams is opened by solo Terence Blanchard, the theme is played by duo – trumpet and piano, and then with whole section. Stable, well build trumpet solo leaves no doubts – Terrence Blanchard is a star of this formation. And he really is, playing prodigious and with unforgettable sound. 
   In last piece, written by former Messenger Jackie McLean bop theme, Dr. Jekyl, whole sextet is back to a main stream of hard bop. Literal citation of Giant Steps in Donald Harrison's alto-saxophone solo once again points for the main idea of this music. And Mulgrew Miller gives next great brilliant solo in his style somewhere between Oscar Peterson and McCoy Tyner. After all, one can wait for the closing solo by Blakey but after short reprise this track comes to the end. First it can be a little bit disappointed but then we can ask if this wasn't the sign of the time.

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