February 27, 2024


Website about Jazz and Blues

CD review: Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – First Flight To Tokyo: The Lost 1961 Recordings – 2021: Video, CD cover

In 1961, Art Blakey did his first tour of Japan with his then-current lineup of the Jazz Messengers. It was a young crew of players—Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Bobby Timmons, and Jymie Merritt were all in their early 20s, while Blakey was comparatively an elder statesman at 42—and the group only been together for a little more than a year with just two albums (The Big Beat and A Night in Tunisia) under their belt.

This two-week tour could have been a straight cash grab, with Blakey and the band giving jazz-starved Japanese audiences a well-mannered and highly competent run through a collection of straight-ahead bop standards. It quickly became clear that—thanks to the enthusiastic reactions of crowds at every single tour stop—they had considerable license to let things rip. And indeed they did. The engaged energy of the crowd fed the players on stage and the result was, as documented on this previously unreleased recording from a Tokyo concert at the end of the tour, some near-electric performances. Instead of acting like ambassadors, the band here is acting more like explorers, taking the crowds’ deep and informed affection for jazz as a license to walk with them into some new terrain that was truly transitioning from the bop era.

This set opens with a rambling, jaunty version of Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time” that goes on for 20-plus minutes. Far from a hoary old chestnut being brought out to warm up the audience, it kicks off the show with a lengthy and intense solo from Blakey that is followed up with some expansive and exploratory interplay between Shorter and Morgan. The tone is set for the rest of the show, which runs a warm, but inquisitive vibe through a number of standards. Timmons’ piano work shines so brightly on “‘Round About Midnight,” as one would expect, but near the last third, his keyboard work gives way to some near-cosmic playing from Morgan that totally reshapes the character of Monk’s standard.

There’s a great balance in the set between solos and communicative group improvisation, but there’s no mistake that Blakey is the leader, as he not only clocks the most spotlight time, but also provides the necessary bridge between jazz’s past and future. And while he’s obviously not digging into the same vibes he would in the late ’60s and early ’70s with albums like Roots and Herbs and The Witch Doctor, it’s also clearly a few evolutionary clicks beyond the Messengers’ name-making work from the late ’50s.

Worth noting: although the sound quality here is not quite audiophile-level (it’s a little thin in places, especially—and unfortunately—on low end/percussion), for a “found” recording, the fidelity is nonetheless rich and transportive.

1. Now’s the Time (22:34)
2. Moanin’ (13:32)
3. Blues March (11:44)
4. The Theme (00:32)
5. Dat Dere (12:13)
6. ‘Round About Midnight (13:28)
7. Now’s the Time (Version 2) (17:15)
8. A Night in Tunisia (11:11)
9. The Theme (Version 2) (00:30)

Bass – Jymie Merritt
Drums – Art Blakey
Piano – Bobby Timmons
Tenor Saxophone – Wayne Shorter
Trumpet – Lee Morgan

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – First Flight To Tokyo: The Lost 1961  Recordings (2021) [24bit Hi-Res] Flac | WRZmusic

Verified by MonsterInsights