Art Blakey's lighthearted introduction before the first live set on this collection doesn't reveal the impassioned seriousness with which he and his Jazz Messengers communicated their music. The first six cuts feature the classic lineup of Lee Morgan, Benny Golson, Bobby Timmons, and Jymie Merritt in a 1958 performance in Europe. This unsanctioned recording is a valuable look at this now-legendary band in action. Classic Messenger tunes such as Timmons' "Moanin'," Golson's "I Remember Clifford," and Blakey's signature feature "A Night in Tunisia" truly come alive on the concert stage.
The last two tracks, recorded a year later in Paris, find Wayne Shorter and Walter Davis Jr. replacing Golson and Timmons, respectively. Blakey gives a brief introduction before the band tears into the raucous "No Problem." Although the sound quality on this track leaves a good deal to be desired, it is obvious that this, too, was another powerful performance, with hints of Morgan and Shorter's magical partnership in the band revealing themselves throughout. In all, LIVE IN THE '50s is an enjoyable picture of both groups before receptive audiences, doing what they do best.