Tuesday, September 8, 2015

the big beat

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers took dat dere hard bop to church and created a solid soulful swing through masterful mayhem.   Blakey had discovered and developed jazz stars (like Donald Byrd, Hank Mobley, Jackie McLean, and Johnny Griffin) and recorded eleven studio albums  (The Jazz Messengers,  Hard Bop,  Ritual,  Tough!,  Selections from Lerner and Loewe's...,  A Night in Tunisia,  Cu-Bop,  Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk,  Hard Drive,  Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers  aka  "Moanin'",  and  Africaine), a half dozen live releases  (At the Cafe Bohemia, Vol. 1,  At the Cafe Bohemia, Vol. 2,  A Midnight Session with the Jazz Messengers,  1958 - Paris Olympia,  At the Jazz Corner of the World, Vols. 1 & 2,  and  Paris Jam Session), and two soundtracks (Des Femmes Disparaissent   and   Les liaisons dangereuses)  in five short years before bringing together a new lineup for  'The Big Beat'.   

'The Big Beat' was recorded on March 6, 1960 at Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey with producer Alfred Lion and engineer Rudy Van Gelder.    Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone,  Lee Morgan on trumpet and flugelhorn,  Bobby Timmons on piano,  Jymie Merritt on bass,  and bandleader Art Blakey on drums.  All of the players had played with the Jazz Messengers before; but this was the first time they all played together in a lineup that would record several more albums (Like Someone in Love,  A Night in Tunisia,  The Freedom Rider,  Roots & Herbs ,  The Witch Doctor,  Impulse!!!!! Art Blakey!!!!! Jazz Messengers!!!!!,   and the live Meet You at the Jazz Corner of the World, Vols. 1 and 2) in just two years.  

Blakey would express:    "You can't seperate modern jazz from rock or from rhythm and blues - you can't seperate it. Because that's where it all started, and that's where it all come from - that's where I learned to keep rhythm - in church."


"Dat Dere"

'The Big Beat' 
full album:


"The Chess Players" (Shorter) - 9:31
"Sakeena's Vision" (Shorter) - 6:04
"Politely" (Hardman) - 6:04
"Dat Dere" (Timmons) - 8:47
"Lester Left Town" (Shorter) - 6:26
"It's Only a Paper Moon" (Arlen, Harburg, Rose) - 6:38

As is customary in all Art Blakey albums, this one is characterized by driving passion and a whirlpool-like swing. In addition, however, the program--one of the best in Blue Note's Jazz Messenger series--also underlines the growing impact as a player and writer of Wayne Shorter as well as the increasingly incisive individuality of Lee Morgan. With a rhythm secion made dependable on all sides of the triangle by Bobby Timmons (who is also becoming the leading jazz neo-gospel writer) and Jymie Merritt, Blakey has his most venturesome and invigorating crew of proselytizers since the original Jazz Messengers with Horace Silver and Kenny Dorham.

Wayne Shorter wrote three of the originals on the date. "The Chess Players" is thus titled because of the stop and go character of the melody, resembling somewhat the moving and then the pondering of a chess game. The progression is built on the principle of fourths. Shorter has the first solo, and while it's true he has clearly listened with concentration to Coltrane and Rollins, Wayne is one of the few of the younger tenors who is already his own man. He plays with striking strength and consistent logic.

Note how, as always, Blakey provides not only a pulsation like the waves of the sea but also accents behind the soloist with unerring propulsive timing. Lee Morgan has an increasingly multi-colored tone quality that sounds here somewhat like a cross in impact between Humphry Bogart and Cannonball Adderley. Timmons' solo is functional, "soulful" and brief; and the chess came ends with all the players--and I don't deserve to ever be forgiven for this pun--soulmates.

The Sakeena of "Sakeena's Vision" is Art Blakey's two-year-old daughter. Minorish in feeling, the work was written in G minor concert but can be--and is played here--in the keys of G, F, and B flat, depending on how the soloist feels. The bar structure is not exactly even in that there is a one-bar pivot point at which the last bar of the second ending also becomes the beginning of the bridge. The piece also includes an extended Blakey solo that again demonstrates Art's furious skill at juggling polyrhythms.

"Politely" was written by Bill Hardman, a former trumpeter with the Messengers. It's a minor blues with what might be described as a finger-snapping rhythmic pattern. I would counsel your noting Merritt's tone and logical conception in his solo. Shorter's solo is an intensely evocative one. Morgan shows how much he's learned about developing a climax, about dynamics, and about letting an idea unfold and build at some length instead of trying to expel it (buck-shot-style) all at once.

"Dat Dere" naturally is Bobby Timmons' sequel to "This Here," which has become one of his best known compositions. Blakey is pleased at the bold introduction of the gospel train to modern jazz, which more or less began with Horace Silver's "The Preacher."  "It's a natural thing; that's one of the places jazz started. Those people who didn't often go to church sang the same tunes outside with different lyrics." Note Lee Morgan's preaching trumpet toward the end of his solo.

Shorter's "Lester Left Town" is described by him as "a small tribute to Lester. It was meant to show how I felt about his whole musical existence. I've been aware of Lester since I began playing, and this tune took a long time to write. Because of my own style, a lot of people seemed surprised that I'd written a piece for Lester, but listeners don't always realize how many influences help to form a musician. And the song is also meant to show that we younger players do think of those who are gone."

The inclusion of "It's Only A Paper Moon" in the Messengers' library came about in November, 1959, when Blakey's unit was playing at the Club St. Germain in Paris. "We were being photographed," explains Shorter, "and we had to do something the audience hadn't heard us play before. Art just pounded out the beat, and at the same time this tune came into Lee Morgan's head. Then, we all picked it up."

Note the grace as well as the verve with which Lee, who is now musical director of the Messengers (in charge of the library) states the melody. Wayne comes in next, and as throughout the album, he illustrates Blakey's characterization of him: "He's so full of energy, you don't know what he's going to do next." Timmons' solo recalls Art's statement that Bobby is the best pianist he's had in the Messengers since Horace Silver. Lee takes the tune out, and the program is over; but as in the case of all kinds of music that is played with unrestricted emotion, the echoes remain for a long time pushing back the silence.

--NAT HENTOFF, from the liner notes

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