Recorded early in 1961, not released on LP until nine years later, and now available as a CD, Roots And Herbs carries on the tradition of hard bop and those unique features that set the genre apart from other forms of jazz. Art Blakey’s quintet recorded the compositions of Wayne Shorter at three sessions in February and May alongside insistent bombs and variable-pitched drum throbs from the veteran teacher and leader. Those eccentric ‘60s witnessed substantial changes in jazz (as well as in other aspects of culture and society) that would polarize fans into several overlapping circles. Those searching for enlightenment and spiritual connections found what they wanted, but overlooked the fiery solo work most of Blakey’s Jazz Messenger quintets have created. Those leaning toward a freer form of jazz without restrictive meters and forms found what they wanted too; however, they may have overlooked the complex result a hard bopper achieves when injecting opposing forces into one tiny phrase. While maintaining the swing and traditional format of bebop, Blakey and others forged new elements that captured many of the very same ideas that were fragmenting the jazz community.
The alternate selections of "Ping Pong," "United" and "The Back Sliders" were not on the original album. Their inclusion on the CD adds a different slant on the material and offers more "meat" to study. Comparing can be interesting. The alternate take of "Ping Pong" finds Blakey driving the band louder than usual. An inferior take, the alternate version of "Ping Pong" drives at the same tempo as the original, but sounds rushed because the artists are trying to include too many notes. "The Back Sliders," with its blues-drenched walking bass and ride cymbal setting the mood, is somewhat similar to "All Blues." It’s got that kind of catchy, contagious feeling that rubs off immediately. The alternate version is just as good (if not even better) than that used on the LP. The solos are different, naturally, but they’re just as inspired and just as fresh. Blakey pumps up Timmons’ piano solo on the alternate take with assertive triplets and several punctuating press rolls, whereas the original version – aside from the drummer’s standard rhythmic beat – limits him to one brief roll. The alternate version of "United" leaves out the claves and cowbell that back up Blakey’s extended solo and instead find the leader inserting a "boom-chuck" on counts two and three of the waltz meter about a minute into the piece and keeping it that way. The version used on the LP is a superior take; a study in time and motion requiring considerable concentration (and several listens). My favorite piece from Roots And Herbs is "Master Mind," where the classic treatment of fours between Shorter and Morgan drives for about 30 repetitions, bringing their conversation closer and closer together until they meet on common ground with the rest of the quintet. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
Track Listing: Ping Pong; Roots and Herbs; The Back Sliders; United; Look at the Birdie; Master Mind; The Back Sliders (alternate take); Ping Pong (alternate version); United (alternate version).
Personnel: Art Blakey- drums; Lee Morgan- trumpet; Wayne Shorter- tenor saxophone; Walter Davis, Jr.- piano on "Roots and Herbs" and "United;" Bobby Timmons- piano (all others); Jymie Merritt- bass.