Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers: With Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk added a new impetus to the Messengers in this 1957 date, here presented with a disc of alternate takes

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Billed as a deluxe edition, the slip case contains two CDs. One of the originally released album and a second of the full programme of alternate takes. It was Blakey’s date, and he was the nominal leader but there is no doubt that Monk was the star of the show.

In 1957 Blakey had been left in limbo when Horace Silver left the original Messengers and took the rest of the band with him. Legend has it that Blakey “forgot” to pay the musicians for a prominent gig but whatever happened the drummer had to form a whole new unit. They were good but not as good as the band with Silver and company.

Monk, on the other hand was at the start of a resurgence of his reputation and success having recently signed with Riverside Records, recorded two important albums – one with Blakey on drums – and was about to form what led to a regular working unit that would stay together for many years.

What is immediately apparent is the compatibility of Monk and Blakey. The new(ish) Messengers soar with Monk’s forceful comping and solos and soloists like Griffin and Hardman sound inspired. It is also instructive to hear the six selections of alternates to study the way the music varies from solo to solo but remains clear and vital on both sessions.

Monk prods and pokes them with percussive, sometimes dissonant lines and Blakey holds the whole thing together, pushing, press rolling, sometimes merely whisking gently depending on the needs of individual soloists.

Hardman shines as a brassy, multi-note trumpet specialist, happy in this situation on slow, medium or up tempos. He fits in more notes than almost any other player here. Griffin is equally at home, full of blues bluster and adept, as always, at ultra-fast tempi. So impressive was he that Monk recruited him for his quartet shortly after this recording. DeBrest was a comfortable, solid bass man. A highly successful session all round, really, and a once in a lifetime type meeting of legendary soloist and top modern jazz combo.

This special two-CD edition has extensive liner notes by Ashley Kahn about Monk and Blakey and their various accomplishments but if you want to study the force and impact of these recordings in detail, read Martin Williams’ original, shorter liner notes. They are included here.

Discography
CD1: Evidence; In Walked Bud; Blue Monk; I Mean You; Rhythm-A-Ning; Purple Shades (43.52)
CD2: Evidence; In Walked Bud; Blue Monk; I Mean you; Rhythm-A-Ning; Purple Shades (43.08)
Bill Hardman (t); Johnny Griffin (ts); Monk (p); Spanky DeBrest (b); Blakey (d). NYC, 14 & 15 May 1957.
Atlantic R2 670841