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Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Live! at Slug's, NYC

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The drums and bass are miked too "hot," and the horns occasionally distort, but there are at least two compelling reasons to listen to this 2006 release of a 1968 on-location Messengers date featuring an unusual Blakey lineup. (No doubt some jazz fans will recognize Slug's as the unpretentious Bowery jazz saloon where Lee Morgan was shot and killed by a jealous lover.)

Billy Harper was an emerging tenor star and a dominant, "first-call" musician on the New York jazz scene during the late '60s and throughout much of the '70s. He plays with hard-edged abandon, displaying all of the top-tones, overtones and chordal effects that were especially in favor at the time of the recording. It's unlikely that "Angel Eyes," the torchy standard on which Harper is featured, has ever been played with more heat and intensity.

Bill Hardman is another candidate for most underrated player ever. He was the trumpet player with Blakey ensembles through much of 1955-57, and he would again become a mainstay in Blakey's late '60s and '70s groups, his major problem being that he was not with the Messengers during their Blue Note recordings. (He is perhaps best captured on a Messengers DVD release from 2002.)

Initially a player with a smallish, crackling tone, Hardman was a master at playing crisply articulated bebop at whirlwind speed. He would retain his dominating technique but eventually develop a fuller, brassier sound—in fact, with Hardman on board, Blakey would occasionally instruct the band to cut out and give several choruses to unaccompanied trumpet! (I still retain memories of Hardman, an unassuming person and figure on stage, appearing on two "all-star" jams featuring more celebrated trumpet players and simply blowing them away.)

Hardman doesn't get many opportunities on this recording, but he demonstrates his versatility with effective contributions to two relatively "outside" compositions by Slide Hampton. The program is a reflection of the times (it was recorded between the deaths of Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix). There's not much "groovin'" but lots of percussive thunder and lightning—as close to sonic mayhem, perhaps, as the mainstream Messengers ever got.


Track Listing: New World; Angel Eyes; Slide No. 2; Theme.

Personnel: Art Blakey: drums; Ronnie Mathews: piano; Lawrence EVans: bass; Bill Hardman: trumpet; Julian Priester: trombone; Billy Harper: tenor saxophone.

Title: Live! at Slug's, NYC | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Empire Musicwerks

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