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May 2006

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers
Live! At Slug's, N.Y.C.
Empire Music Group

Recorded in August 1968 at Slug’s, the notorious East Village nightclub where Lee Morgan met his violent end, this reissue features a Jazz Messengers lineup that never made a studio record. With Blakey pushing the band and setting the dynamic with his typically bombastic style behind the kit, these Messengers kick into high gear right out of the gate on Slide Hampton’s “New World,” which features dazzling solos from trumpeter Bill Hardman, trombonist Julian Priester and tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, along with a whirlwind solo by the bandleader. Harper turns in some dramatic, emotionally charged tenor work on a sparse arrangement of “Angel Eyes” alongside bassist Lawrence Evans and pianist Ronnie Mathews. (Blakey doesn’t enter until the three-minute mark, and Hardman and Priester sit this one out entirely.)

Harper adds a stunning minute-long cadenza to this hauntingly beautiful ballad. Hampton’s other composition here, “Slide No. 2,” is an exhilarating, Latin flavored number propelled by Blakey’s irrepressible bashing and featuring some stunning solo contributions from Hardman, Harper and bassist Evans, a potent force throughout this session though a lesser-known figure in Messenger’s lore. The sextet closes with a shockingly dissonant interpretation of Monk’s bop anthem, “52nd Street Theme,” which sounds more like one of Cecil Taylor’s raucous outfits than any edition of the Jazz Messengers you’ve ever heard before.

Originally published in May 2006
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