Art Blakey: Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk

APRIL 1958 (54 YEARS AGO) *

Art Blakey: Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk is released.
# allmusic 4/5
# Penguin Guide to Jazz 4/4 (Crown award)
*Note: Our research indicates an April 1958 release.
Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk is a studio album released in April, 1958 on Atlantic Records, catalogue SD 1278. It is a collaboration between the Jazz Messengers led by Art Blakey and Thelonious Monk, and is the only time Monk recorded for the Atlantic label, Blakey’s only other appearance being as a sideman for Milt Jackson on his Plenty Plenty Soul album.
Throughout the preceding decade, on sessions for both Blue Note and Riverside, Blakey had supported Monk on various occasions. Monk returned the favor on this one-off session for Atlantic. Blakey was on the verge of beginning a long-term contract with Blue Note, while Monk was in the middle of his stay on Riverside. One month after these recordings, Monk would begin his summer and autumn residency at the Five Spot on Cooper Square after regaining his cabaret card. His quartet featuring John Coltrane at that residency would bring Monk fame beyond the inner circle of jazz aficionados. Atlantic would release this album over a year after it was recorded, thereby capitalizing on Monk’s increased visibility.
Two giants of modern jazz collaborate on this session of all-Monk tunes. Recorded in 1958, Blakey’s always-impressive Jazz Messengers are joined by the Mad Professor himself (this record affords a glimpse of Monk as a distinguished and individual accompanist, in addition to his usual dazzling lead performances), for workouts on such classics as “Blue Monk,” “Rhythm-a-ning,” and “In Walked Bud.”
Side by side, Blakey and Monk exhibit a strong, electric interplay, and the similarities of their approaches (both are concerned with space, polyrhythms, meter and accent) are evident. In “I Mean You,” for example, Blakey carries the standard time of the piece, yet introduces a simultaneous line that forms a dialogue with the melody and rhythm. Likewise, Monk improvises harmonic variations in the two choruses of the same song; the first is a descending motif, the second a contrasting line turned around and inside out. Inventive treats like these, as well as some strong playing from horn men Johnny Griffin and Bill Hardman, make this outing of the Messengers and Monk of interest to aficionados and casual listeners alike.
Bill Hardman — trumpet
Johnny Griffin — tenor saxophone
Thelonious Monk — piano
Spanky DeBrest — bass
Art Blakey — drums
by Lindsay Planer, allmusic
Most of the titles on this album are derived from Thelonious Monk’s vast catalog of bop standards. Both co-leaders are at the peak of their respective prowess with insightful interpretations of nearly half a dozen inspired performances from this incarnation of the Blakey-led Jazz Messengers. This combo features Art Blakey (drums), Johnny Griffin (tenor sax), Bill Hardman (trumpet), and Spanky Debrest (bass). Immediately, Hardman ups the ante with a piledriving lead during “Evidence” that underscores the heavy-hitting nature of this particular jazz confab. Monk counters with some powerful and inspired runs that are sonically splintered by the enthusiastic — if not practically percussive — chord progressions and highly logistic phrasings from the pianist. The inherent melodic buoyancy on “In Walked Bud” contains a springboard-like quality, with Griffin matching Monk’s bounce measure for measure. Griffin’s incessant efforts create a freshness to the tune that often escapes other less inspired readings. From Blakey’s boisterous opening on “Blue Monk” through to Monk’s single-note crescendo during the finale, the Jazz Messengers provide a lethargic propulsion that showcases the melody’s bluesy origins. This directly contrasts the uptempo charge of “Rhythm-A-Ning.” The quirky yet catchy chorus glides with the dual-lead horn section as the entire arrangement is tautly bound by the understated Debrest and Blakey. Griffin’s “Purple Shades” is the only non-Monk composition that this aggregate recorded. This smartly syncopated blues seems better suited for the Jazz Messengers than for Monk. However, the pianist’s opening solo alternately shimmers and shudders with Debrest as well as Griffin and Hardman, who demonstrate their own pronounced capabilities over Monk’s otherwise occasional counterpoint.
All tracks composed by Thelonious Monk unless noted                                 
Side one                                             
1              Evidence                              6:46
2              In Walked Bud                   6:39
3              Blue Monk                          7:54
Side two                                             
1              I Mean You                         8:02
2              Rhythm-A-Ning                                7:20
3              Purple Shades  (Johnny Griffin)                7:48
1999 bonus tracks                                           
7              Evidence (alternate take)                             5:30
8              Blue Monk (alternate take)                         6:59
9              I Mean You (alternate take)                        7:34

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