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Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers: Just Coolin'

Chris May By

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Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers: Just Coolin'
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man or woman in possession of a good quantity of Art Blakey albums, must be in want of a lot more. Previously unreleased albums are particularly enticing. So do not be fooled by the Reid Miles-inspired cover of Just Coolin': the disc is previously unissued. It presents Blakey in his pomp fronting a dream-team Jazz Messengers lineup.

AAJers do not need to be reminded that Blakey was at the epicentre of Blue Note during its late 1940s to mid 1960s purple period under the leadership of founder Alfred Lion. The stats are impressive: Blakey first recorded for the label in 1947 and over the next two decades made more than 20 albums for Blue Note as leader, appearing on nearly 40 more as a sideman, invariably elevating the music. The release of Just Coolin', produced by Lion at Rudy Van Gelder's Hackensack studio on March 8 1959, racks the numbers up still higher (and begs the question: how much more high-quality material has Blue Note got stashed in the vaults?).

It is not known why Lion decided to shelve the session, but the likely reason is that five weeks later he recorded the same lineup live at New York's Birdland for what became the two-volume set At The Jazz Corner Of The World, which includes four of the six tunes that make up Just Coolin.' By the time the Messengers got to Birdland, the material—all of it new to the band—was more familiar to the musicians and the ensemble passages were played with more precision. Lion, always a stickler for such exactitude, probably decided to release the live album rather the studio session for that reason.

Just Coolin''s occasional borderline-ragged theme statement, however, pales into insignificance when measured alongside the passion with which the players approach the material. The album features Blakey with trumpeter Lee Morgan, tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, pianist Bobby Timmons and bassist Jymie Merritt. The saxophone chair was in transition. The Messengers had last recorded in late 1958 (making the classic Moanin'), with Benny Golson on tenor. In July 1959, Blakey would replace Golson, who had quit to form The Jazztet with Art Farmer, with Wayne Shorter. Mobley, who had in 1954 been a founder member of the Messengers, returned to hold the fort until Shorter was in place.

Three of the tunes are Mobley originals: "Hipsippy Blues," "M&M" and "Just Coolin,'" which were subsequently recorded at Birdland along with Bernice Petkere's "Close Your Eyes." The previously unissued pieces are "Jimerick" (composer unknown) and Timmons' "Quick Trick."

Sixty-one years after it was recorded, Just Coolin' affirms another truth deserving of universal acknowledgement: hard bop of this quality is immortal.

Track Listing

Hipsippy Blues; Close Your Eyes; Jimerick; Quick Trick; M&M; Just Coolin’.

Personnel

Art Blakey: drums; Hank Mobley: saxophone, tenor; Lee Morgan: trumpet; Bobby Timmons: piano; Jymie Merritt: bass.

Album information

Title: Just Coolin' | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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