Art Blakey and The Jazz Messenger – Blue Note/Capitol/Acoustic Sounds/EMI Music CBNJ 84003 stereo-only SACD [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:
(Lee Morgan, trumpet; Benny Golson, tenor sax; Bobby Timmons, piano; Jymie Merritt, doublebass; Art Blakey, drums)
This original Rudy Van Gelder session (in early stereo) from 1958 has really been around, as you can guess from the label credits above. Originally released on LP by Blue Note, it was picked up several years ago for the audiophile treatment by Acoustic Sounds and is still available from them – as well as options including a 120 gram LP + CD, a 200 gram LP, or a set of 45 rpm vinyl for $50. (The SACD retails for $30.) My guess is that the album has done well enough as a hybrid SACD to interest the money people at EMI Music Special Markets, so they have worked out something with both Blue Note and Acoustic since Blue Note is now part of the EMI music group. (How HM end up distributing the reissue I haven’t the foggiest.)
Since we’re not talking about the actual performances yet, let me say that switching between the CD layer and SACD layer again makes me amazed that there are still nay-sayers who claim nobody can tell the difference between the standard and hi-res formats. The first thing such an A/B demo will reveal is that since this is an early stereo recording, it suffers from the hole-in-the-middle, ping-pong effect of half the band in the left channel and the other half in the right. It’s a shame there’s no way to feed two-channel SACDs thru Dolby ProLogic II on my preamp for surround effect. But if you can’t hear that via SACD the piano on the left sounds less wooden and muffled and more like strings on a real instrument, and the tenor sax on the right sounds like a real human blowing it, with a more reedy quality and even breath intake, you may need to have the wax removed from your ears.
OK, the music: This album is Blakey’s most successful due to the three super-standard jazz hits included on it: Bobby Timmons’ Moanin,’ Benny Golson’s Along Came Betty, and Blues March. By the way, one addition to this Blue Note reissue not found on the Acoustic Sounds reissue is a closing alternate take of Moanin.’ The band must have been forced to those three tunes every time they played publicly. This album put The Jazz Messengers on the map and brought fame to Morgan, Golson and Timmons as well as Blakey.
I’m not a fan of marches at all, but I’ve always dug Blues March. In the original liner notes from Leonard Feather he mentions how it fuses some of the spirit of old New Orleans marching bands with a totally modern approach to improvisation. He also lauds Blakey for establishing the marching mood thruout but avoiding monotony of any sort. Speaking of drumming, I had forgotten about Golson’s Drum Thunder miniature suite on the album. Usually I’m not a fan of drum solos, but this one has me captivated. It grew out of a desire by Blakey to use mallets instead of drumsticks thruout the suite. That gives a more thunderous sound – hence the title. Those lower frequencies come thru with greater impact and clarity on the SACD layer too.
TrackList: Moanin’, Are You Real, Along Came Betty, The Drum Thunder miniature suite, Blues March, Come Rain or Come Shine, Alternate take of Moanin’
– John Henry