Saturday, December 4, 2010


Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers
Hard Drive (Bethlehem)

-Shawn Kirkeby, host of Hard Choices
Sat, 11am-1pm
Art Blakey, when asked about his music being labeled hard bop, insisted, "I don't know what they are talking about. All we try to do is play music, basic music. How are you going to swing if you don't swing hard?”

Hard Drive: Out of This World and The Next World Too, featuring the second formal group of Messengers, swings hard and aims high. After all, Sputnik, the first satellite, was launched into space by the Soviet Union in just a week before the session in October of 1957.

Art Blakey and his energetic Messengers sent a business-as-usual message to the jazz audience with trumpeter Bill Hardman, tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin and bassist Spanky DeBrest, guided by the experience of pianist Junior Mance and Blakey's steady, voracious drums.

The group's enthusiasm and comfort with one another is evident in seamless solo exchanges in Jimmy Heath's For Minors Only, and in DEO-X, Hardman's composition built on a tonal scale opened by Blakey's clear and creative stick sounds. As Hardman said about Blakey: "When he's there, you don't have to worry about anybody being behind you. Even if it were just him, with no piano or bass, it would be pretty cool.”

Griffin later reflected, "We had more fun than anybody. A ball every night." His two compositions, Right Down Front and Krafty, are well-interpreted highlights of the session.

Hard Drive may not be the powerful Moanin', recorded a year later for Blue Note with names like Golson, Morgan and Timmons. Nor does it contain a future leader like that of the 1980s lineup that produced Wynton Marsalis, who reinvigorated hard bop.

It is, however, an intoxicating teacher-student session, all the way through to the last composition by Philadelphia pianist Leon Mitchell. His Late Spring showcases this talented group of musicians, who shared Art Blakey's desire to swing hard.

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