2. Body and Soul
3. 1997 A.D.
4. Hawk Man
5. I Remember Clifford
Art Blakey - Drums
Valery Ponomarev - Trumpet
David Schnitter - Tenor sax
Bobby Watson - Alto sax
James Williams - Piano
Dennis Irwin - Bass
Art Blakey changed jazz drumming through his intense technique and sound, such that his style became readily identifiable. With the ever-present press roll followed by an explosion on a crash cymbal, connected to cross-rhythms on the snare drum and explosive foot-work, audiences were drawn to this extrovert performer and the bands that he led.
This particular iteration of the Jazz Messengers was not all that well-known and somewhat under-appreciated, as it was together for just two years: 1978 and 1979. They recorded four albums, only one of which was produced in the US, and thus their output had limited distribution. Nevertheless, the hard-bop tradition that Blakey had established was always on the cutting edge of any group he fronted. Additionally, since Blakey was not a very prolific composer, he was always willing to provide band members with an opportunity to display their composing talents and on this disc three of the six tunes are by band members.
The opening tune is Mishima, an original by tenor man David Schnitter and there is an Oliver Nelson Stolen Moments feel to the piece. The front line starts out with a unison statement of the theme, then there are a few bars of a Latin refrain and then each of the band's members delivers lengthy solos that create the necessary momentum to carry the composition along. All the while Blakey is generating the rhythm that focuses the group's efforts.
The second original is by pianist James Williams and is entitled 1997 A.D. While not as structurally interesting as the previous tune, it does offer lots of solo space, and both Williams and Bobby Watson on alto sax take full advantage of the opportunity. The longest cut on the disc at over 18 minutes is the Bobby Watson composition Hawk Man. This piece is a swinger from start to finish, with Blakey at his showy best with some marvellous brush work which segues into a pyrotechnical display for which he was well-known. All the band members are in top form, but pianist James Williams delivers a startling solo mid-way through the tune.
The other three tunes on the session - Body and Soul, I Remember Clifford and Moanin' - have all been part of the Jazz Messengers' band book for a considerable period of time. That does not mean the pieces have been given a perfunctory reading, rather their familiarity does not challenge the listener in the same way as do the original compositions. That being said, tenor man David Schnitter gives a tour-de-force performance on Body and Soul, especially his three minute a capella ending to the tune. Russian trumpeter Valery Ponomarev flashes his startling technique with triplets flying everywhere in his lyrical version of I Remember Clifford.
Art Blakey was always a driving force regardless of the makeup of the band he fronted and this one is no different. The digital re-engineering of the sound is terrific and thus the disc is a welcome addition to the Jazz Messengers' legacy.