Taken from a previously unissued live recording caught at Tokyo’s Hibiya Public Hall in 1961 during the Jazz Messengers’ first-ever tour of Japan, First Flight to Tokyo chronicles a fresh performance by one of jazz’s greatest bands in front of an adoring audience. The release features the legend/leader with the top Messengers lineup of Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Bobby Timmons, and Jymie Merritt. Songs include “Now’s the Time,” “’Round About Midnight,” and Messengers standards “Dat Dere” and “Moanin.’” First Flight . . . includes rare photos and new interviews with Shorter, Japanese music critic Reiko Yukawa, and contemporary drum greats Louis Hayes, Billy Hart, and Cindy Blackman Santana. Audio was transferred from the original ¼” tape reels; the vinyl edition was mastered by Bernie Grundman and pressed at RTI, for those concerned with such things.
Previously available live recordings from this Messengers lineup include Meet You at the Jazz Corner of the World, Art Blakey et les Jazz Messengers au Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, and Paris Jam Session (with Walter Davis Jr. and Bud Powell replacing Timmons). High cotton to match, indeed. And this recording does so in several places, including Blakey’s killer solos on “Blues March” and the first of two different versions of “Now’s the Time,” Morgan and Shorter’s individual fireball solos (including some wild Morgan wailing on “Moanin’” and Shorter’s titanic blasts on “Dat Dere”), and Timmons’ nearly blissful work on “Dat Dere.”
The Messengers play superbly throughout, and the packaging is excellent. But owing to the recording methods used—perhaps a single overhead mic?—some tracks or sections of tracks sound subdued, smaller in stature compared to the aforementioned live recordings. Spoiled as we are by the absolute clarity of modern discs, First Flight to Tokyo may require a deeper listen, or at least headphones, to fully appreciate its artistry. But the reward, as with all Jazz Messengers albums, is significant.