Art Blakey - drums; Olu Dara - trumpet; Carter Jefferson - tenor and soprano saxes; Cedric Lawson - piano, electric piano; Stafford James - bass; Ray Mantilla - percussion
Legendary drummer/bandleader Art Blakey was acknowledged as one of the great talent scouts in jazz. Throughout the lengthy duration of his Jazz Messengers, which he formed in 1954 and continued to lead up until his death in 1990, a who's who in jazz passed through the ranks of Blakey's school of higher education on the bandstand. At the time of this July 3, 1974 concert at Carnegie Hall, Blakey had assembled a new group of musicians that was never documented in any capacity… until now. Pianist Cedric Lawson came to the Jazz Messengers as a replacement for Cedar Walton, while trumpeter Olu Dara replaced Woody Shaw in the lineup. Stafford James replaced Mickey Bass on bass, and tenor saxophonist Carter Jefferson was a holdover from the 1973 lineup. And percussionist Ray Mantilla came on board to add some rhythmic spice to the proceedings. This recording, in fact, marks the only documentation of this highly energetic,, highly adventurous edition of the Jazz Messengers.
This potent lineup opens its 1974 Newport Jazz Festival concert at Carnegie Hall with a powerful cymbal crash from the leader, followed by a fanfare from Olu Dara against a droning backdrop of Lawson's piano tinkling and James' bowed bass. From that rubato intro, they kick into an aggressive modal excursion that taps into a visceral groove, particularly on Dara's bristling trumpet solo and Jefferson's urgent, cathartic tenor solo. Pianist and musical director Lawson also turns in a particularly powerful piano solo that nods at times to McCoy Tyner, John Coltrane's right-hand man during his Impulse years, while Mantilla percolates underneath on congas. Next up is a longstanding Jazz Messengers favorite, "Blues March," the 1958 Benny Golson tune which this provocative crew turns inside out and stands on its head. Once again, Jefferson's tenor sax solo goes far afield from the original hard bop intent of this tune, drifting into headier realms of the avant-garde. Dara's trumpet solo is equally cathartic, and Lawson switches to Fender Rhodes electric piano on this tune, adding to the provocative nature of this free blowing interpretation of an old Messengers' staple. They close out their set on an exhilarating note with a burning rendition of the Cole Porter classic, "I Get a Kick Out of You," reinterpreted here as a hard-charging hard bop showcase full of intricate stop-time figures and heroic solos from Jefferson and Dara. The piece culminates in a thunderous, extended breakdown between Mantilla's congas and Blakey's drums to bring this '74 Newport Jazz Festival set to a rousing conclusion.
A dynamic presence on the bandstand and charismatic personality off stage, Art Blakey led his hard-swinging ensembles from behind the drum set for four decades. Born in Pittsburgh on October 11, 1919, Blakey was a self-taught pianist who led a big band at age 15. He switched to drums after being displaced on piano in his own band by fellow Pittsburgher Erroll Garner. His biggest drumming influences as a teenager were Chick Webb and Big Sid Catlett, both of whom would become important mentors for Blakey in the early stages of his career. In 1942, Art traveled to New York as a member of pianist Mary Lou Williams' band to play at Kelly's Stables on fabled 52nd Street. The following year he toured with Fletcher Henderson's big band, and in 1944, joined Billy Eckstine's bebop big band, which included such young lions of the bebop movement as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, Dexter Gordon, Leo Parker, and featured vocalist Sarah Vaughan. At the height of the bebop era, his aggressive style on the kit underscored countless recordings for the Blue Note, Savoy, and Prestige labels with the likes of Clifford Brown, Tadd Dameron, Fats Navarro, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Bud Powell, and Horace Silver.
In 1949, following a trip to West Africa, Blakey converted to Islam and took the Muslim name Abdullah Ibn Buhaina. That same year he began a two-year stint as house drummer at the famous jazz club, Birdland. From 1951 to 1953, Blakey played in Buddy DeFranco's quartet, and in 1954, he and Silver co-led the first edition of the Jazz Messengers which included trumpeter Kenny Dorham, saxophonist Hank Mobley, and bassist Doug Watkins. When the other four members left the band in 1956, Blakey carried on the band name; the beginning of what would become for the next four decades a kind of jazz school on the bandstand. More than 200 sidemen passed through the ranks of the Jazz Messengers over the years. One of the most potent Jazz Messengers ensembles was the early '60s sextet that included tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, trombonist Curtis Fuller, pianist Cedar Walton, and bassist Reggie Workman (which produced such quintessential hard bop documents as 1963's Ugetsu and 1964's Free For All, both on the Blue Note label).
Blakey continued waving the flag for hard bop through the '70s and '80s and up until his final recording in April, 1990, One For All, cut when the irrepressibly swinging drummer/bandleader was 70. He died later that year, on October 16, 1990, just five days after his 71st birthday. (Milkowski)