In 1964 Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers stepped into Rudy van Gelder's studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, and probably melted the inside of the building. With great material and truly special inspiration, they created a record of the most uncompromising, in-your-face hard bop recorded to date. Musical director Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone contributes two high energy originals and probably the best playing of his five year Messengers tenure, Freddie Hubbard contributes the other two tunes, one original and one arrangement, and also blows his brains out on trumpet, Curtis Fuller adds a rich third voice and some great trombone playing, Cedar Walton plays some great and tasteful piano, both in accompaniment and solo, Reggie Workman really pushes the sound of the band into a more advanced rhythmic feel, and Art Blakey of course plays like a man on fire, creating volcanic energy that kicks the band up to a superhuman level. Fine, this description may sound like Leonard Feather-esque hype, but it's really not. This album is incredible.
The whole album is great but there are two standout tracks. The first is the eleven minute title track. A perfectly formed Wayne Shorter original, it is voiced in rich three part harmony over an insistent rhythmic figure (though not rigid--Reggie Workman's embellishments and displacement of time makes it a very free-flowing feel) and a bridge whose release and buildup of tension sounds a lot like a train getting closer. The solos from the horns and Blakey are very intense and Shorter and Hubbard shred in particular. The high energy level is maintained throughout this tune, then the next two are almost as intense ("Hammerhead" drops the tempo without losing any of the energy) before culminating in the perfectly placed "Pensativa." It is a beautiful Clare Fischer medium-up Latin tune gorgeously arranged by Freddie Hubbard. I took four hours once to transcribe the arrangement and its absolutely brilliant use of tension in the horn voicings. This tune keeps the energy of before but the intensity level backs off and it's the perfect close to a great album.
This album will appeal to those who enjoy "Mosaic," an earlier Messengers outing with similar personnel. This album is in a similar vein but better. In terms of Art Blakey newcomers, "Moanin'" or "The Big Beat" is a better place to start, but once you're ready for this album, it will blow your mind.