SA - Can't praise it enough! Forget any Blakey "backbeat" notions, its an amazing session and indeed slightly frightening in its anger and intensity. Not sure what they were taking that day!
I would have to second Bluesnik's enthusiasm for "Free for all." When I first played this CD I was dumbstruck at just how contemporary this record was and, compared to the bundle of other classic Blue Notes that I had picked up in a slae that day, felt that it transcended it's era. The muscularity of the record is quite unlike any other Blue Note recording I have heard and the whole set seems to be fuelled by testosterone. As the review suggests, the line up is pretty impressive and if the whole disc only seems to quieten down on the closing strack "Pensitavia", there is still a degree of dynamics in the playing by the goup that cannot fail to impress.
What is interesting about this thread is that there seems to be plenty of enthusiasm for vintage Jazz Messenger line-ups (even obscure ones like the group with john Gilmore) but it seems inconsistant when his later bands seem to provoke little interest even if a disc like "Free for all" definately laid down the manifesto for future groups. Indeed, I think that the overall approach of the group seemed to vary little from this date right up until the end when it included the likes of young Neo's like Wynton Marsalis,Branford Marsalis, Donald Harrison, Terrence Blanchard and Wallace Roney. None of these musicians seems to elicit much enthusiasm on this board and Wynton has almost become a figure of fun. However, I would argue that if you wound time back to about 1982 most people here would be arguing that Blakey's policy was demonstrably correct and hugely influential.
It is also quite intuitive to read the passing comments concerning Blakey's drumming. For me, this was very much the achilles heel of his groups. Despite being loaded with a host of "forward-thinking " boppers like Shorter , Hubbard and Walton (how about some praise too for the under-appreciated Curtis Fuller?) whenever I hear Blakey I am immediately put in mind of his mentor Chick Webb. Blakey doesn't seem "modern" and the "backbeat" notion is not an unreasonable criticism. I would much sooner listen to drummers like Kenny Clarke , Elvin Jones or Jack deJohnette who are far crisper and precise drummers and never as leaden as Blakey could sometimes be. Sometimes I feel Blakey made the band drag.
If you have to go for one Blakey disc, without being an expert on his output, it would be difficult to imagine anything better than "Free for all." However, I would be interested to hear any suggestions for "Classic" JM recordings from the 70's onwards. I recall hearing a broadast on Radio 3 several years back of a JM concert made back in the 80's and being suprised that the band was far more ragged than I remembered. There was a similar thread on "All about jazz" several years back which discussed Blakey's latter works but whilst he certainly never had another composer quite as good as Shorter writing for him, I am not convinced that there aren't JM records out there of comparable merit.
Ian - I think Blakey's "backbeat" really came in with the Golson/Morgan/Timmons band - Moanin' and Blues March etc. Either side of that "flirtation" there was some very fluid playing from Art - At the Bohemia with Dorham and Mobley, the Columbia album with Mobley and Byrd, Messengers with Monk, Hubbard et Mobley at Jazz Corner (Birdland) etc. And then the later classic sextet with Shorter, Hubbard, Fuller and CEDAR WALTON who also contributed some very fine compositions to the book.
That sextet recorded extensively for Alfred and a lot was stockpilled/released later. Mosaic is a gem and Roots and Herbs earlier.
I agree the later (70s) groups sounded often very rough at times but did have some fine soloists. A "mature" Bill Hardman for example came back in, Walter Davis, and even Wynton was in his unaffected prime.
But given just how good Blakey's 60s records were - and they included a mass of Wayne Shorter compositions - time for a re-think of the cliches.
I'm going to hear Terence Blanchard on Thursday. I'll let you know how it goes.
One latter-day Messenger whose solo work I've generally been impressed by is Bobby Watson. In particular, Love Remains is an excellent album, and I thought his Glasgow appearance in 2008 was one of the best concerts I've been at for a while.
He's not doing anything new, but he's one of the best straightahead post-bop altoists around.
Odd that you should mention Blanchard as I had been playing the CD where his quintet back various singers (Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves, a young Jane Monheit before she discovered pies and Diana Krall) on a selection of Jimmy McHugh compositions. Amazing just how many truly great tunes he actually wrote. Assembled on a single disc, the list is revelatory. The album is strange for a disc released in 2001 as the standards are all re-jigged with new harmonies and time signatures which might have been more akin to something produced in 1985. I find the singing to be the best thing about this record and the quality of all four of the chanteuse's is exceedingly high even though I can take or leave the latter. (Having seen DR, CW and DK live on various occasions, I would have to say that there is a country mile between the first two and Elvis Costello's wife. Monheit is the only one I haven't seen but her voice is exceptionally beautiful as ever.) What is problematic for me is the tone of Blanchard's trumpet which is almost so bright as to go well beyond what is typical in jazz. It is a very pure sound that comes from his horn. He is a curious musician as he seems to have enjoyed far greater success as a composer and writer over recent years with plenty of plaudits whilst never seeming to quite capture the imagination of the jazz public. I'm not over-familiar with his output but I find his sound to be problematic in a way that a very different swing era musician like , say, Harry James is very hard to take. Blanchard's tone just sounds wrong and whilst I wouldn't doubt his ability, he is not a trumpet player I particularly enjoy. Wonder if anyone else felt the same about his playing. Certainly, with players like Peter Evans, Ambroke Akinmusire, Roy Hargrove and Dave Douglas around, I feel he has been well and truly left behind by the competition. I'm always amazed that he doesn't seem to take as much flak as someone like Wynton when I would suggest that both are conservative with Blanchard probably more deserving of some of the critic's ire. Still, the disc I have is worth the money for the definitive version of "On the sunnyside of the street" which is even better than the majesterial versions by Lionel Hampton's all-star 1930's band and the wonderful version by Johhny Hodges with Duke Ellington. The sly arrangement is a treat and Cassandra Wilson's voice is a standout.
I would be curious to read your assessment of the Blanchard gig. Afraid that my lack of enthusiasm on this record has never really tempted me to pursue his work further even if the tribute to New Orleans' flood victims seemed intriguing.
Bobby Watson is a player who also seems to have stepped aside of the limelight as a soloist and concentrated on writing. I believe he is heavily involved with one of the facilities in Kansas City and "All about jazz" sang the praises of a recent big band album he released last year although the hefty price and shirt playing-time made me reconsider.