(Art Blakey, drums; Curtis Fuller, trombone; Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Wayne Shorter, tenor sax; Cedar Walton, piano; Reggie Workman, bass)
Picking out the best sounding version of the Blakey & the Jazz Messengers’ Caravan is almost as difficult as picking out the ultimate Jazz Messengers line-up over the 30+ year period that Art led his group. There are those that favor the Lee Morgan Wayne Shorter, and Bobby Timmons group vs. the Freddie Hubbard, Shorter, Fuller, and Cedar Walton group. For the old timers no one can top the Café Bohemia band of Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley, and Horace Silver. There must even be a small group of younger fans that love the Wynton Marsalis or Brian Lynch trumpet led, later Blakey bands of young lions.
Picking out the best sounding version of Art’s classic 1962 Riverside session, Caravan, is also a chore as there is a Japanese 20 bit K2 CD issued in a 2001 limited edition, as well as the American Riverside initial CD issue. Now we can add to the mix the new 2007 Keepnews Collection. Both the 20 bit K2 and the Keepnews include the same tracks with take 2 of Thermo and take 4 of Sweet’n’Sour, but the Keepnews switches the order of the bonus tracks. [There was also a 2004 SACD from Fantasy, which has a very slight edge sonically…Ed.]
As far as a listening test will take you, I am partial to the K2 remastered by ace Japanese Shigeo Miyamoto and Tamaki Beck. Using ballads, Wee Small Hours of the Morning, and Skylark, as reference tracks, the K2 simply has a warmer, cleaner, more natural tone than the 24 bit Keepnews edition. Hubbard’s trumpet and Fuller’s trombone at the end of Wee Small Hours simply rise above the Keepnews in volume and clarity. On Skylark, Freddie once again rises to the occasion with warmer, more powerful timbre. Shorter here shines as well and Walton’s piano has an “in the room quality” before Freddie reasserts himself in an upper register feat of bravado that the Keepnews Collection edition cannot quite match. The Keepnews comes closer with Shorter’s chorus but cannot match Hubbard’s power that the K2 engineers bring out.
As far as liner notes and artwork, the Keepnews is the clear winner, with the LP back cover, more photos and an eleven page essay by the album’s producer, Orrin Keepnews, who brings us up to date with his more long-range take on the Blakey legacy as both leader and drummer extraordinaire.
As the K2 edition was limited to only 10,000 copies, it may be harder to find since Concord bought out the Fantasy catalog. The recent Keepnews collection will be easier to find and certainly an upgrade from the original Riverside CD issue.
TrackList: Caravan, Sweet’n’ Sour, In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning, This is for Albert, Skylark, Thermo, Thermo (take 2), Sweet’n’ Sour
– Jeff Krow