This is Art Blakey's early period Jazz Messengers featuring trumpeter Kenny Dorham, saxophonist Hank Mobley, bassist Doug Watkins, and pianist Horace Silver. This first volume of live performance from the Cafe Bohemia in New York City circa late 1955 is a rousing set of hard bop by the masters who signified its sound, and expanded on the language of modern jazz. There are three bonus CD tracks not on the original LP that further emphasize not only the inherent power of Blakey's band and drumming, but demarcate the simplicity of melodic statements that were a springboard for the fantastic soloing by these individuals who would follow those tuneful lines. Dorham is responsible for this edict, as he contributes three of the selections, including the staccato-accented melody of "Minor's Holiday" primed by a thumping intro via Blakey, "Prince Albert" with its by now classic and clever reharmonization of "All the Things You Are," and the perennial closer of every set "The Theme," with its brief repeat melody and powerhouse triple-time bop break. Mobley wrote the scattered melody of "Deciphering the Message," heard here at length for the first time, although it was later available in its original shortened studio form on the reissued Columbia CD Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers. The tenor man gets his feature on the quarter-speed slowed ballad version of "Alone Together," which altogether sounds pining and blue to the nth degree. Standards like Fletcher Henderson's "Soft Winds" seemed merely a simple and lengthy warmup tune, but Tadd Dameron's "Lady Bird" is an absolute workout, with variations abounding on the intro, first and second run-throughs of the melody, and some harmonic twists. Watkins is featured on the lead line of "What's New?," which again combines melancholy with that slightest spark of hope. If this is indeed in chronological order as a first set from the November 13, 1955 performances, it wets the whistle and leaves the listener wanting more, knowing the best is yet to come.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos