“We have to be thankful that such wonderful music was captured for posterity.”

Storyville SCCD 36504

Art Blakey: drums; Freddie Hubbard: trumpet; Wayne Shorter: tenor saxophone; Curtis Fuller: trombone; Cedar Walton: piano; Jymie Merritt: bass

Recorded in Concert, Falconer Centret, Copenhagen, Denmark, February 15, 1962

There are always discussions about which is Blakey’s best band. When you listen to this band playing before an enthusiastic audience, you will have no doubt that this band is one of the best, if not the best. We have to be thankful that such wonderful music was captured for posterity.

‘Moon River’ starts with Wayne Shorter with his extended notes and that characteristic almost muffled sound, already giving the impression that he has so much to say. Freddie Hubbard spits out phrases and holds notes for effect, pirouetting around his musical motifs with that bubbly, ice sharp phrasing. Curtis Fuller has a fluid hooded sound that enables him to outdo Frank Rosolino with triple tonguing in a declamatory onslaught. Cedar Walton pursues a middle line with a relentless logic. Behind him Blakey ticks off the beat. The Messenger’s message is clear from the start.

‘Contemplation’ is pure Shorter, illustrating how Art Blakey encouraged his proteges. It is a non-spectacular melody that leads to a thoughtful solo showing the aspects of his work that would soon attract the cognoscenti. The melodic ‘Lester Left Town’ is Shorter’s tribute to Lester Young and his second composition on the album. It is a delightful melody and a jumping off point for inspired improvisation with an assertive abstract solo for Wayne Shorter which does not quite match the trumpet solo of Freddie Hubbard who soon indulges in complex high wire sounds. The purity of sound impresses as he is driven on by Blakey’s drums. Cedar Walton’s solo is almost a relief from the tension generated by Shorter and Hubbard.

‘Round Midnight’ opens with a portentous atmosphere. Hubbard is very tightly muted. The compression of the tone increases the intensity. Hubbard holds notes, soars, skips, invents and creates. This is considered work leading in to Cedar Walton’s thoughtful solo with its occasional quotes. This, however, is Hubbard’s moment as he finishes with a dazzling coda that is the highlight of the whole album.

‘It’s Only a Paper Moon’ is a great tune and the arrangement is punctuated by Blakey’s drums driving the piece relentlessly.  A fiery Shorter solo races through, aided by the heavy percussion from the leader. Hubbard here is at his most imperious and creative. One revelation is that Blakey on this album is restrained. He solos half way through the piece which is unusual for Blakey.

Shorter’s solo on ‘Arabia’ is outstanding, the way that he embraces his ideas with passion, ingenuity and barely controlled ferocity. This is Shorter, prefiguring the work that he would go on to do with Miles Davis.

The last piece ‘Blues March’ by Benny Golson was introduced in the fifties and Blakey kept it in the book through the existence of the band. It is a joyful, spirited romp.

The whole album reminds us what a wonderful era the sixties were with bands like this touring concert halls and clubs, playing transcendent music of supreme quality night after night.

Reviewed by Jack Kenny