On this follow-up volume of recordings done live at Birdland from the second-edition "Jazz Messengers" (officially the Art Blakey Quintet), there are extraordinary high points, along with low points that either result from tiredness or a lack or preparation. With trumpeter Clifford Brown taking over briefly for Donald Byrd, and alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson in the fray post-Hank Mobley, the band has a very different sound, though pianist Horace Silver, Blakey, and bassist Curly Russell (sitting in for Doug Watkins on these recordings only) are solid as a rock. There's some quintessential bop and hard bop in this set, inspired and hard-charging as one might expect, but the Latin tinge of the original band is gone. Because of Donaldson's predilection for the sound of Charlie Parker, the pure bebop sound is unrelentingly infused into the music. Where "Now's the Time" works well in a relaxed harmonic stance from Brown and Donaldson, you can't help but notice that the amped-up "Confirmation" has sloppily missed notes in the melody, while "The Way You Look Tonight" (included on later reissues) is really loose as the horns come in tentatively and unsure. "Wee-Dot" fares much better in an assertive, bright sound that clearly is more practiced, representing hard bop at its finest. Donaldson is clearly the dominant player here, with Brown surprisingly taking a back seat, as the strong ballad "If I Had You" has the altoist alternately singing, sighing, and brilliantly extrapolating on his horn à la Bird. They play together quite well on the signature version of Silver's jaunty hard bop anthem "Quicksilver," which famously quotes "Oh You Beautiful Doll," and "Lou's Blues" (another bonus track) is a quick unison bop for the appropriate end game. The additional tracks expose the flaws in this very short-lived edition of the Blakey-led combo, but the rest is good enough to carry the estimable reputation of this legendary band.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos