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Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers: The Sesjun Radio Shows

Dan McClenaghan By

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The old and irksome "but is it jazz" argument has probably never been brought into play when it comes to drummer/bandleader Art Blakey (1919-1990) and his ever-changing line-up of The Jazz Messengers. The music Blakey and his usually young players made was most certainly jazz, of the hard bop, hard-charging variety—brash and brightly hued, and joyously swinging.

The Jazz Messengers, active from the early 1950s until the mid-'80s, was an on-the-job Jazz university, graduating such luminaries as Clifford Brown, Curtis Fuller, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Branford Marsalis and Wynton Marsalis, Donald Byrd, Hank Mobley and Benny Golson, Bobby Timmons.

The Sesjun Radio Shows captures later stage Blakey bands, recorded live for the Dutch radio show Tros Sesjun in 1978, 1980, and 1983. The star level of the personnel may not be as high as earlier Messenger configurations, but the music remains remarkably consistent under Blakey's taskmaster leadership.

The first set, broadcast in December, 1978, opens with alto saxophonist Bobby Watson's "Time Will Tell." Another Blakey trait was his ability to mine his band members' songwriting skills for his group. The tune is bright and up-tempo, rolling in on some unison trumpet/alto blowing, before Watson sears into a hot sax solo, demonstrating another Blakey band characteristic: these guys solo with supreme confidence. The three horn men in the front line each get their turns—Watson, trumpeter Valery Ponomarev and tenor saxophonist David Schnitter—while behind them, the rest of the Messengers maintain a steady, high-speed cruise control.

Some of the more familiar tunes offered up on the three sets include Benny Golson's "Along Came Betty," the classic "Stairway to the Stars," Shorter's "Free for All," the Great American Songbook jewel "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," and, of course, Blakey's signature song, "Moanin,'" from the pen of Bobby Timmons.

Of special note is the third set, four tunes that feature trumpeter Terence Blanchard, who doubled as musical director when Blakey's drinking began interfere with his ability in that area (though not in his playing). The band sounds a bit smoother and more together here, more refined, the "hard" in the hard bop polished down just a bit, with everybody—Blakey included—in the finest of form.

Track Listing: CD1: Time Will Tell; E.T.A.; My One and Only Love; Dr. J.; Evaline; Along Came Betty; Stairway to the Stars; Free for All. CD2: Blues March; 1977 A.D.; Little Man; Polka Dots and Moonbeams; Moanin'; The Theme.

Personnel: Art Blakey: drums;David Schnitter: tenor sax (CD1#1-5); Valery Ponomarev: trumpet (CD1#1-8; CD2#1-2); Bobby Watson: alto sax (CD1#1-8; CD2#1-2); James Williams: piano: CD1#1-8; CD2#1-2); Dennis Irwin: bass (CD1#1-6); Billy Pierce: tenor sax (CD1#7-8; CD2#1-2); Charles Fambrough: bass (CD1#7-8; CD2#1-6); Jean Toussaint: trumpet (CD2#3-6); Terence Blanchard: trumpet (CD2#3-6); Donald Harrison: alto sax (CD2#3-6); Johnny O'Neal: piano (CD2#3-6).

Title: The Sesjun Radio Shows | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Naxos

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