Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers

New Year's Eve at Sweet Basil: Art Blakey and His Jazz Messengers

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Proof positive that Blakey never stopped cooking. Live features the drummer at the peak of his powers, kicking a band of upstarts in the rear and making them rise to levels of passionate creativity they might never again attain. Take altoist Donald Harrison, for instance, who in my opinion has never sounded as inspired as he did with the Messengers. The same can probably be said for dozens of young men who passed through the band, for there was nothing more challenging to an improvisor than the shattering intensity of a Blakey groove. For a soloist teetering on the edge of jazz oblivion, it was either jump or get pushed kicking and screaming into the abyss. Jazz's sometimes counter-productive macho ethic was epitomized by the Messengers, yet the music didn't suffer. It thrived, and the credit must be given to the unqualified brilliance of Mr. Blakey. This late version of the band was of a very high quality. As fine as the assembled players were, it seems apparent in retrospect that all of them -- Terence Blanchard on trumpet, Harrison on alto, Jean Toussaint on tenor, Tim Williams on trombone, Mulgrew Miller on piano, and Lonnie Plaxico on bass -- played over their heads with Blakey. While they all went on to develop greater technique and accumulate more knowledge, none of them have thus far transcended the quantity and quality of passion and imagination that is evidenced here. The tunes are all original drivers and swingers written by band members or alumni, yet right out of the Blakey bag, and the group makes the most out of them. An excellent album that illustrates the transfiguring effect a creative genius can have.

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