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Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers With Thelonious Monk

Art Blakey & Thelonious Monk

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Album Review

Most of the titles on this album are derived from Thelonious Monk's vast catalog of bop standards. Both co-leaders are at the peak of their respective prowess with insightful interpretations of nearly half a dozen inspired performances from this incarnation of the Blakey-led Jazz Messengers. This combo features Art Blakey (drums), Johnny Griffin (tenor sax), Bill Hardman (trumpet), and Spanky Debrest (bass). Immediately, Hardman ups the ante with a piledriving lead during "Evidence" that underscores the heavy-hitting nature of this particular jazz confab. Monk counters with some powerful and inspired runs that are sonically splintered by the enthusiastic — if not practically percussive — chord progressions and highly logistic phrasings from the pianist. The inherent melodic buoyancy on "In Walked Bud" contains a springboard-like quality, with Griffin matching Monk's bounce measure for measure. Griffin's incessant efforts create a freshness to the tune that often escapes other less inspired readings. From Blakey's boisterous opening on "Blue Monk" through to Monk's single-note crescendo during the finale, the Jazz Messengers provide a lethargic propulsion that showcases the melody's bluesy origins. This directly contrasts the uptempo charge of "Rhythm-A-Ning." The quirky yet catchy chorus glides with the dual-lead horn section as the entire arrangement is tautly bound by the understated Debrest and Blakey. Griffin's "Purple Shades" is the only non-Monk composition that this aggregate recorded. This smartly syncopated blues seems better suited for the Jazz Messengers than for Monk. However, the pianist's opening solo alternately shimmers and shudders with Debrest as well as Griffin and Hardman, who demonstrate their own pronounced capabilities over Monk's otherwise occasional counterpoint.

Biography

Born: 11 October 1919 in Pittsburgh, PA

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s

In the '60s, when John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman were defining the concept of a jazz avant-garde, few knowledgeable observers would have guessed that in another 30 years the music's mainstream would virtually bypass their innovations, in favor of the hard bop style that free jazz had apparently supplanted. As it turned out, many listeners who had come to love jazz as a sophisticated manifestation of popular music were unable to accept the extreme esotericism of the avant-garde; their tastes were...
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