Homage to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers
Art Blakey's greatness definitely rubbed off on conga drummer and bandleader Ray Barretto. The two met after Barretto got out of the U.S. Army in 1949, and the pair started jamming in New York City jazz clubs. Homage to Art is Barretto's uplifting tribute to his old friend, giving the Jazz Messengers' hard-bop tunes an Afro-Cuban framing.
Barretto personally chose the repertoire and it's obvious Wayne Shorter was his favorite Messenger. His compositions make up over half the album, with most being arranged by pianist Luis Perdomo. "United," "Sleeping Dancer, Sleep On," and "Noise in the Attic" are beautifully balanced interpretations using modern harmonies and space that allow the percussive interplay of Barretto's low-toned congas and Vince Cherico's trap drums to be heard. Trumpeter Michael P. Mossman reworks "Lester Left Town" with a swinging Cubop feeling and a nice flurry of fours at the end. "Close Your Eyes" opens with trumpeter John Bailey rendering the theme with a Miles-like tone. It quickly turns into a cat-and-mouse chase with alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon. Known for his work with David Sanchez, Zenon brings a full-bodied tone and keen ear for improvisational abstractions to the sextet. Barretto's impressive band also includes the deep-anchor bass of Hans Glawischnig.
On Homage to Art, Barretto shows that he's continuing to cultivate new voices such as Perdomo and Zenon. It's that youthful jubilance that kept Blakey going for years as well as Barretto, 74, with his long-running New World Spirit bands. From his novel "Frere Jacques" answer to Blakey's "Three Blind Mice," to Bailey's ballad "Ballade for Buhaina" (commissioned by the New York City-born conguero), this is the best jazz album Ray Barretto has ever made.