The 40th of Jon Turney’s weekly selections comes from Art Blakey’s late line-up of stars in the making.
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This album, with its teasingly ambiguous title (is it your album of the year, or is it that the Messengers have made yet one more recording?) and determinedly dull sleeve design, looked unpromising. But when the needle hit it was rather special. This was Art Blakey’s strongest late career line-up – all just about under 30, with Wynton Marsalis the baby of the group, and altoist Bobby Watson as musical director. All of them – including Billy Pierce on tenor, James Williams on piano and Charles Fambrough on bass – were among the best that the drummer ever recruited.
They are all captured at an early peak, hustled, goaded and cajoled by the leader’s drums as this tune, by Watson, exemplifies.
It’s a brisk, no-nonsense affair – typical Messengers’ material – allowing Blakey full use of his rich accentual repertoire to spur on the soloists. Watson’s just-acidic-enough alto probably takes the solo honours here, preceded by Pierce. Young Wynton, in his only studio date with the Messengers, isn’t too bad either, and Williams has a taste too. Solos aside, the collective conveys such joy when the ensemble play together. Old school acoustic jazz never went away, but 40 years ago it seemed like it had a new lease of life.