Art Blakey was always fond of drum ensembles, and was allowed an opportunity to present this aspect of his full-force concept on occasion. With supplemental fellow drum masters Philly Joe Jones and Roy Haynes, a sole front line melodist in trumpeter Lee Morgan, bassist Jymie Merritt, pianist Bobby Timmons, and fourth percussionist Ray Barretto on congas, this group features more than drum solo, duo, and trio segments. The tune structure is emphasized instead of simple workouts, and when you listen closely to the stereo separation of this disc, you can hear the colorful differences between the louder Blakey, the subtle but hard swinging Jones, and the indefatigable precision of Haynes. Though Morgan's role in this music is somewhat marginalized, he makes the most of his chances, following Merritt in a basic Miles Davis tonality for the shuffling "Blakey's Blues." Both Charlie Parker's famous "Moose the Mooche" and Blakey's adaptation "Let's Take 16 Bars" have similar melody lines, the former a 15-minute ABAB form taking turns with the drummers, the latter a looser and flowing blues following the drummers healthily traded-off solos at the outset. A somewhat ethnic modal piano lead melody from Timmons is atypical for this session on "Lee's Tune," with Morgan countering on an individualistic, hip, hard bop, and thoroughly modern line. But this is, after all, a drummer's showcase, as Blakey, Jones, Haynes, and Barretto whip up some controlled mezzo forte fury on an urgent, albeit a bit rushed "Lover," while "Drums in the Rain" separates the four percussionists into separate but equal villages of ritual, vocal type sounds, with Barretto signaling the initial conversation as the other three riff and play off each other. The final two tracks are strictly duets between bassist Paul Chambers and Blakey not on the original session. The stroked and sleek blues tones of Chambers during "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" inspires the fine brush work of a subdued Blakey, while the singing, gruff arco lead on "What Is This Thing Called Love?" has the bassist assimilating a Slam Stewart façade, with Blakey again toned down of bombast, retrained, and tasteful. A session that over the years has been unfairly maligned as monochromatic and a fork in the road from Jazz Messengers projects, the fun quotient and ebullient feeling of these players should be taken more fully into account, as this is much more than merely a marginal date or afterthought.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos