Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk. Analog Sparks 180 gram vinyl reissue. UNIM-ANA-8283.
As the first track Evidence bursts from the speakers, you'd be forgiven in mistaking Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk for a 'Free Jazz' album by Anthony Braxton or Eric Dolphy. The second track, however, In Walked Bud brings us back to straight ahead bop jazz. Turns out Monk was only messing with us.
No matter the style, the playing and the collaboration between two of the great American jazz minds is superlative. Blakey's drumming is so creative and is captured brilliantly by an intimate recording [while writing this review on the superb Squarespace Blog iPhone app, I listened to the digital remaster of the album on TidalHiFi. The damn thing was almost unlistenable. Score another huge win for quality vinyl, which is infinitely better.]. Monk stabs away at far away chords then plays florid passages worthy of Chopin. The juxtaposition is fascinating, as always.
The sideman are expert if not stellar, Bill Hardman on trumpet notwithstanding. Wikipedia describes him as 'A crackling hard bop player with blazing technique, crisp articulations, and a no-frills sound'. Not here. His playing is a bit of a mess -- poorly executed solos and dodgy intonation [by I Mean You, things improve]. The altogether superior Johnny Griffin on tenor and Hardman rarely agree on pitch centre. It makes for weak heads. However, Griffin on form is brilliant and matches the invention of Monk.
This Blakey recording is much better than his Moanin', which is highly regarded both as a recording and performance and his first for Blue Note. I was very disappointed with the Moanin' LP reissue, even more so with its USD $34.99 price tag. The same price for the Blakey/Monk album posed no such disappointment. It is an exemplary work of art and very highly recommended.
In Walked Bud
I Mean You