Now that Concord Jazz is in the midst of a number of reissues from the label’s classic albums, jazz listeners are fortunate that Carl Jefferson had the foresight and opportunity to record the Jazz Messengers’ mid-eighties band in live performances a continent apart. With one disk recorded in New York’s Mikell’s and the other recorded almost a year later in San Francisco’s Kimball’s, the set offers a complement for comparing the two gigs and augmenting Art Blakey’s discography with even more documentation of the thrill that the Jazz Messengers infused in its listeners.
The version of the group that Concord captured on tape includes musicians who went on to establish their own influential careers in one way or another.
Except for one: tenor saxophonist Jean Toussaint, who moved to London soon after leaving the Messengers. That’s too bad. Toussaint’s deep and confident tenor sound, like Ralph Moore’s, on tunes like “Jody” shows that he could have remained as well-known as the other band members if he had continued to access the New York jazz scene with its attendant media outreach.
As expected, the Jazz Messengers burn, Blakey’s kit a-sizzle and crackling, as he animates the performances of his protégés and excites the crowds on both coasts with easily identifiable drum solos, such as the fire at the beginning and end of “Jody.”
Terence Blanchard, Mulgrew Miller and Lonnie Plaxico show that they had already developed their personalized styles. On “Polka Dots And Moonbeams,” Blanchard commands the tune with his lyrical sensibility, seemingly strongly derived from Louis Armstrong on this track, and he ends with an audience-pleasing cadenza of dynamic intensity and flawless technique, including quotes from “Flight Of The Bumblebee.” Mulgrew Miller, presently one of the most accomplishedand under-rated accompanists and team players among jazz musicians, delivers astute interpretations of “My One And Only Love,” “It’s Easy To Remember,” “Who Cares” and “Old Folks.” Lonnie Plaxico anchors the proceedings with buoyancy and firmness.
But it’s Donald Harrison who uncharacteristically tears through numbers like Jackie McLean’s “Dr. Jekyl,” reminding the listener of his aggressiveness that seems to have mellowed on his more recent CD’s.
Coast To Coast proves once again not only the Jazz Messengers’ ability to ignite audiences throughout the United States, but also its universal appeal of unparalleled excellence through successive band members, taught as Messengers and then spreading their inspiration throughout the world.
Track Listing: Disk 1: Oh, By The Way; Ballad Medley (My One And Only Love, It
Personnel: Art Blakey, drums; Terence Blanchard, trumpet; Donald Harrison, alto sax; Jean Toussaint, tenor sax; Mulgrew Miller, piano; Lonnie Plaxico, bass