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Thursday, December 31, 2020

Drum Suite - Art Blakey



Drum Suite
Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers
Photo: Arnold Newman
African Art Courtesy of Klejam Gallery
Columbia Records CL 1002

From the back cover: Drum Suite

As preparations for a test run for the Drum Suite began, the air in Columbia's studios was filled with excitement. Jo Jones and Art Blakey moved over to their respective drums, Candido and Sabu picked up their bongos, Ray Bryant sat down at the piano and Oscar Pettiford got set with his bass and 'cello. Meanwhile Charles Wright sat down behind a set of drums with tympani on one side and a gong on the other. All of them had various smaller instruments near at hand. At the end of the test run, everyone sat down to listen to the playback, and that was it. No retakes were needed, except for vocal passages. It took the fellows a little longer to master the Swahili dialect. All the chanting was done by the percussionists. No arrangements were used.

Though the three pieces that comprise the Drum Suite are distinctly individual, there is a surprising amount of cohesion. Blakey's The Sacrifice begins with an authentic Swahili chant, derived from an ancient sacrificial ceremony. "The witch doctor tells of two who will be sacrificed to the crocodiles. The crowd echoes him, and the ceremony builds to a frenzied climax. The witch doctor announces the Mumba (death) of those sacrificed, and a celebration follows." Here is some of the most fantastic drumming ever captured on records. Every conceivable rhythm is used.

Next comes Ray Bryant's finely woven Cubano Chant. This easy-swinging piece, with its medieval modal colorings, is further evidence of the young composers-pianist's talents The hesitating rhythms and lovely melodic lines are all blended into a swinging beauty. After a chorus by Ray, the percussionists take over to offer an engaging section.

From the very beginning of Oscar Pettiford's Oscalypso it is evident that this is going to be wild. Starting with Oscar playing 'cello, the piece expands as Ray enters on piano, then Candido and Sabu on bongos, and gradually the rest of the percussion is added. The lyrical Oscar plays two choruses, Ray Bryant follows for two more, and the percussion takes over fo the kill. Here is all the rhythmical counterpoint and emotional sensitively one could ask for. After the percussion has taken the work to its climax, Pettifor returns to bring the suite to a close as he quietly strums the 'cello.

The Jazz Messengers

The other side of this record presents Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in another example of their impressive dynamic readings. Their imaginative use of harmony and counterpoint gives their work a remarkable freshness, and Blakey has another chance to demonstrate his highly developed ability as accompanist as well as soloist.

Gigi Gryce's Nica's Tempo is another of the series of pieces dedicated to the Baroness Nica Koenigswarter. This 44-bar work seems to be of the type that fascinates the Messengers most, in that it lends itself to endless variation. A gifted newcomer, Bill Harman, is heard on trumpet, his brittle trumpet style adding fire to the driving approach of the Messengers. The ever searching Jackie McLean is heard on alto, offering his creative impression. In D's Dilemma, the group is heard in a more relaxed mood. Free swinging playing, as well as tasty ensemble and solo work, is heard here. The group returns to its customary hard-driving beat in the final selection, Bill Hardman's Just For Marty. The framework of this piece is ideal for the virtuoso performances the Messengers provide. – Cal Lampley

From Billboard - June 24, 1957: A hi-fi novelty packed with percussive power. Aside from the pure sound value, the disk demonstrates the wide range of emotional expression inherent in the drum and simple percussion instruments. As a bonus-though none is needed - there are echo chamber effects that come across most attractively on wide range equipment. The Jazz Messenger side is particularly noteworthy for drum virtuosity.

The Sacrifice
Cubano Chant
Nica's Tempo
D's Dilemma
Just For Marty

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