Recorded in 1957, Art Blakey's A Night in Tunisia
jumps right into powerful rhythms, pounding through a full two-and-a-half minutes before a melody begins. But once begun, the melody, the chord changes, and even the solos, are all just an afterthought to the music's driving force. The force is unrelenting: when the young bassist, Spanky De Brest, cannot keep up, Blakey keeps moving forward.
Included on this particular reissue are alternate takes of the first three cuts on the album, though these tracks are not, unfortunately, hidden jewels of reinterpretive insight (read: they were left off of the original album for a reason). Not coincidentally, they lengthen the disc to 74 minutes and 51 seconds, just shy of a CD's limit, so draw your own conclusions as to Bluebird's selection criteria.
What this reissue does offer is solid remastering, allowing Blakey's imaginative polyrhythms to stand out more crisply. And the hard swinging sax lines traded by Jackie McLean and Johnny Griffin regain some of their liveliness. The two reeds would not play together long, as McLean was soon to leave the band, one in a long series of personnel changes for Blakey's Messengers. Blakey seems used to that, to his band crumbling around him. He taps and bangs on, aware of what his musicians are playing but determined not to stumble when they do.
This review first appeared in the July 2002 issue of All About Jazz: New York .
Personnel: Johnny Griffin - Percussion, Sax (Tenor) Bill Hardman - Percussion, Trumpet Art Blakey - Drums Spanky Debrest - Bass Sam Dockery - Piano Jackie McLean - Percussion, Sax (Alto)