Although the Jazz Couriers are widely held to be the finest and most influential of British bebop/hard-bop bands, little recorded material by the group has been available in recent years. Add to this the paucity of available solo releases by the two men who led the Couriers, tenor saxophonist and vibraphonist Tubby Hayes and fellow tenor player Ronnie Scott, and you have two good reasons why this reissue from Ember Records, which pairs the band's debut studio session from August 1957 with a live recording from February 1958, is so welcome.
It's no secret that Hayes and Scott modelled their band on Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, and this is in evidence in the opening number, “Through the Night Roared the Overland Express”. A Hayes composition, it features some effective, Latin-tinged drumming from Bill Eydon that recalls Blakey's work on “Nica's Dream”, from the 1956 <|>The Jazz Messengers|>sides on Columbia. Trumpeter Jimmy Deuchar augments the band on the track, and also guests on “Royal Ascot”, in which composer Hayes switches from tenor to vibes. The unusual tenor/vibes/trumpet front line in this buoyant cut is a welcome step away from the two-horns-and-a-rhythm-section sound of the 1950s Messengers. Hayes' vibes are particularly suited to Tad Dameron's wistful “On A Misty Night”, which he furnishes with a shimmering solo. Of the live tracks, “Some of My Best Friends Are Blues” is an instantly memorable 12-bar blues by Scott, who contributes a couple of frenzied solo choruses. Pianist Terry Shannon raises his game in response and his solo is fluid, intelligent and soulful. “The Serpent” crawls on its belly, its Latin rhythms helping it insinuate itself in the mind after just one listen. The album closes with Hayes' witty, blaring arrangement of Irving Berlin's “Cheek to Cheek”, in which the whole outfit breathes fire.
No mere Messengers clones, the Couriers took Blakey’s hard-bop template and stamped their own identity on it, aided by Hayes’ fresh compositions and arrangements and the judicious use of Tubby’s vibes. Today, Hayes is credited with a crucial role in establishing British modern jazz as a credible force. Although similarly fêted, Scott is known more as a club owner and jazz proselytizer than as a superb player and composer of talent. I hope this fine reissue redresses the balance.
Track Listing: Through the Night Roared the Overland Express, Royal Ascot, On a Misty Night, Cheek to Cheek, Oh, My!, Plebus, Reunion, A Foggy Day, What is This Thing Called Love?, Some of My Best Friends Are Blues, The Serpent, Guys and Dolls, Time Was, Speak Low, Cheek to Cheek