Art Blakey is a powerful name in the world of jazz.
Anyone who knows a decent bit about the genre will likely know the name well. Blakey was a leader, an innovator, and a legend. One of the most important figures in jazz as a whole, and without a doubt one of the greatest percussionists to ever live. Co-founding The Jazz Messengers in the mid-50s with Horace Silver (another hard bop legend) was one of his first great accomplishments. Moanin' is quite possibly his most acclaimed record, and for good reason.
The Jazz Messengers was a group of incredible jazz musicians led by the master Art Blakey (Horace Silver left early on). Over the 35 years the group existed it went through many changes, but the main goal remained the same: bringing in new talent and nurturing it. This group was nothing short of a spawning ground for young talent, helping keep the jazz scene as alive as possible. In 1954 Blakey expressed, "I'm gonna stay with the youngsters. When these get too old I'll get some younger ones. Keeps the mind active." Many members of the Jazz Messengers launched significant solo careers. Most notably: Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller, Woody Shaw, and many more. When Blakey chose a new member for the group, he did not choose spontaneously, instead, he chose very specifically to fulfill his vision and ideas. He needed creative players, ones who wouldn't shy away from breaking boundaries and pushing themselves to their limits.
Opening with some very memorable piano from Timmons, the title track gets off the ground quickly when Blakey enters. It is worth noting that the title track, which quickly became a jazz standard, was written by Timmons. Recorded in 1958, this album features what many consider to be one of the Jazz Messengers' best lineups. The strong Lee Morgan on trumpet, the talented Benny Golson on saxophone, the consistent Jymie Merritt on bass, the beautiful Bobby Timmons on piano, and of course, Art "Father of Hard Bop" Blakey on drums. There is a reason he has this title. He was there for the conception of the hard bop movement in jazz, helping to pioneer inventive techniques and drive the genre into the mainstream. Without Art Blakey, there are an immense amount of hard bop composers and musicians who would have never been able to flesh out their ideas. The amount of talent he brought to jazz is nearly incomparable.
Art Blakey's fierce and explosive swing is addicting and always gets my body moving. I'm not sure how one could sit still listening to his excellent drumming - it is truly one of the best things I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. The Jazz Messengers have such a mind-blowingly consistent and fantastic discography that it is nearly impossible to pick out highlights. There are a few cases, however, such as with Moanin' (and others like Mosaic & Free For All), that it is glaringly obvious you are listening to something special. These highs often occurred when new members would join, and Blakey would be revitalized.
The recording quality of this record, as well as most records from Art Blakey (and a lot of jazz at the time), is perfect. I've found it harder to listen to newer music lately, as it rarely has such care in the quality of the recording.
Throughout this record, the performers never let up. You get some incredible career-defining moments from nearly every musician here. I'd highly suggest this as a beginner jazz record, as I find it to be much more immediately satisfying than other beginner records (such as Kind of Blue or Blue Train). I believe that newcomers to jazz will appreciate Blakey's more energetic and thunderous style, especially if they are a fan of rock-related music. His absolute domination of the drumset would set a precedent for decades to come. If you haven't already, do yourself a favor and give this timeless record a listen.
This album is so damn good it has got me moanin'.
Sorry. I had to.
If you have been enjoying my jazz reviews for the past few days, I'm glad, and you can expect more to come. You should also check out my jazz lists:
"John Coltrane Ranked"
"Miles Davis Ranked"
Both have over 100 releases, and took me a lot of time!
(Art Blakey Ranked coming very soon! As well as Lee Morgan Ranked. I'd also love to make an Introductory Jazz list, something to help people get into the genre.)