Art Blakey: Drum Suite
Columbia/Sony BMG Music;
Rs. 399 (CD)
Art Blakey was one of the greatest drummers in the be-bop and hard bop idioms of jazz, and had a big hand in the evolution of the latter genre.
In the early 1950s, he took a keen interest in the African percussion roots of the rhythms that underlay jazz.
The drum suite of the title of this album, comprising its first three tracks, was recorded at a 1957 session in which five drummers/percussionists participated along with a pianist and a bassist.
The remaining six tracks come from two separate sessions in 1956 with more conventional line-ups, comprising, trumpet, tenor or alto saxophone, piano and bass, and, of course, Blakey.
On these latter tracks, solos on the trumpet, saxophone and piano figure most prominently, with the occasional bass or drum solo thrown in.
Of the greatest interest among these numbers, all brilliantly executed, is the role of Ira Sullivan on the last two tracks, two different takes of The New Message. Apart from soloing on tenor sax, he also engages in some interesting two-trumpet exchanges with Donald Byrd, the main trumpeter.
Sullivan’s facility in switching between the two instruments is breathtaking.
The line-up for the drum suite is Ray Bryant on the piano, Oscar Pettiford on the bass/ cello, Jo Jones and Blakey on orthodox drums, Specs Wright on drums, tympani and other percussion, Candido Camero on congas and other percussion (he also switches to bass while Pettiford takes a cello solo on Oscalypso, a calypso composed by himself), and Sabu Martinez on bongos, congas and other percussion.
These three pieces, with their vocal call-and-response sections, in which one of the musicians chants something and the others respond in chorus, and their extensive percussion interludes, is quite different from orthodox jazz and evocative of its African origins.
Bryant and Pettiford naturally bear the brunt of the melodic work including the solo improvisations.
The novelty of this beautiful suite almost makes the remaining six tracks seem anticlimactic, but the high degree of musicianship all through the album dispels any such impression.
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