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Art Blakey: Theory of Art

Art Blakey was in transition in April 1957. He had parted company with Horace Silver less than a year before, and had yet to establish a convincing track record as the sole proprietor of the Jazz Messengers. The groups featured on Theory Of Art reflect Blakey’s formidable skills for bringing together the day’s strongest, cutting edge players. Unfortunately, the sextet featured on five of the CD’s seven tracks-originally issued as A Night In Tunisia-was one of Blakey’s shortest-lived, and therefore unable to substantially extend hard bop like his 1960 unit with Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, and Bobby Timmons.

Still, any band with Jackie McLean, Johnny Griffin, and trumpeter Bill Hardman in the front line must have attention paid. Aside from the 12-minute blowathon on “A Night in Tunisia,” which even by then had become a Blakey staple, the sextet program consisted of bona fide rarities, including Griffin’s sleek “Off the Wall,” Blakey and McLean’s jaunty “Couldn’t It Be You,” and Hardman’s hard-hitting “Theory of Art.” The band’s brinkmanship (and the cohesiveness of Blakey, pianist Sam Dockery and bassist Spank De Brest) is impressively displayed on a compact reading of Sonny Rollins’ demanding “Evans.”

The CD is rounded out by two cuts from an unfinished album that, had it been completed with similar material, would have been an anomaly in Blakey’s discography. With a nonet billed as The Jazz Messengers Plus Four (including Morgan, Hardman, Melba Liston, Griffin, Sahib Shihab, Cecil Payne, Wynton Kelly, and De Brest), Blakey took on a cooler-but not that cool-sound, performing well-crafted charts by Gigi Gryce. Blakey leaves very few drum-prints on these tracks, “Tony’s Place,” a full-bodied Gryce original, and an insouciant “Social Call.” Among its other pleasures, these tracks provide more evidence of the 18-year-old Morgan’s amazing artistic maturity.

Originally Published