Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers of 1959 were hitting their full stride, as trumpeter Lee Morgan joined the fold with tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, the reliable pianist Bobby Timmons and steady bassist Jymie Merritt. Recorded live at New York's City's Birdland aka the "Jazz Corner of the World," this double-CD set reissued of two Blue Note LPs represents four 20-minute sets of this incredible band at their best, and in their element. Mixing up standards and favored originals from peer group composers, the band is, in the vernacular of the era, cooking. Introductions by the legendary M.C. Pee Wee Marquette precede the ultra-cool blues shuffle "Hipsippy Blues," as Morgan and Mobley sing beautifully through their horns in delightful unison. "Chicken an' Dumplins" is one of the hip, cool, chatty, and clipped melodies that will be memorable and hummable 'til jazz do us part. The theme "Art's Revelation" in a minor key has Jewish elements and a solid swing base where Blakey constantly switches up rhythms, but not the tempo. The fast hard bop theme "M & M" defines the genre and the era, while "Just Coolin'" is depicted as a foxtrot, but in hot, hard swinging trim. Several standards include a great read of Randy Weston's "Hi-Fly" with a pristine intro and Mobley's wonderful harmonic interpretation. Thelonious Monk's "Justice" (better known in later years as "Evidence") fully exploits the written pedal point stop-start theme, while the languid "Close Your Eyes" has modal piano and horn inserts further enhancing this sweet tune. You also get a short and stouter version of "The Theme," the former with Marquette's announcing. When Mobley left and Wayne Shorter joined this ensemble, they hit their peak of performance, but this band was as definitive a modern jazz ensemble as there ever was, and the immaculately chosen repertoire elevates this to one of the greatest live jazz session ever, and belongs on the shelf of all serious jazz listeners.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2