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From the very opening moments of these remarkable recordings, one is at once struck by the sense that a moment of historical importance is being witnessed all over again. Blue Note's Alfred Lion, in his unerring vision, decided to record Art Blakey's new band at Birdland in February 1954. He had rightly sensed that something new, something thrillingly new, was afoot. Though Charlie Parker was still a year from death, bop was demanding an invigorating lease of life to take it into a new dimension of expressiveness and vitality. The resulting transformation of the now hackneyed music into something raw, urgent and fizzing with energy was to be popularly called "hard bop", and was thrust into public consciousness on this record, and its sister volume (Birdland, Vol. 2 - which should be purchased with Vol. 1).
The set opens with a presentation by Birdland's MC, the quirky, shrill-voiced Pee Wee Marquette. The sheer confidence of the ensemble emerges instantly: Art Blakey had assembled the hottest combo of the moment. Even Miles Davis, who had attended a rehearsal shortly before the recording, had sarcastically expressed a desire for Clifford Brown to "break his chops". He was clearly awestruck by Brownie's now legendary round, fat tone, and a seemingly limitless capacity to conjure up melodies and counter-melodies, weaving in perfectly-executed arpeggios to accentuate the harmonic changes. His solo on "Quicksilver" is brimming with all of these qualities - no wonder Miles was intimidated.
Lou Donaldson's first solo on "Split-Kick" is right out of the Charlie Parker-inspired tradition. But it emerges throughout the records that Donaldson's attack, tone and phraseology is confidently his own. Art Blakey, who was older than his sidemen by a decade, had with his avuncular authority nurtured the chemistry that would make his fledgling Jazz Messengers the most fecund school of music for the next 30 years of jazz history.
Bebop classics such as "Now's the Time", "Confirmation" and "A Night in Tunisia" reveal the influence of the tradition (then barely a decade old) and its central place in the repertoire of even a cutting-edge band. But more revealing still is the presence of new numbers composed by Horace Silver ("Split Kick", "Quicksilver", "Mayreh") and Lou Donaldson ("Lou's Blues"). The band was giving well-known material an electrifying, vigorous treatment, illustrated clearly by Donaldson's blistering break before his solo on "A Night in Tunisia", and at the same time developing a body of original work to cement the compositional and performing talent of its young members.
From an historical perspective, this recording and Vol. 2 are the decisive springboard from which Clifford Brown was to become the most talented and popular trumpeter of his generation. A mere month later Max Roach called him to form what was to become the most sought-after small jazz group of the 1950s, and one of the most admired in history. From this band also, Horace Silver grew to become a leading voice of the hard bop movement and a Blue Note icon. Blakey himself went on to give opportunities to young musicians such as Kenny Dorham, Donald Byrd, Doug Watkins, Hank Mobley, Bill Hardman, Johnny Griffin, Jackie McLean, Lee Morgan, Benny Golson, Bobby Timmons, Wayne Shorter... Perhaps no other jazz musician's generosity and insight has given wings to so many great players. Listen to these records and wonder what might have happened to American music if Art Blakey hadn't been born.
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on 1 July 2009
The Art Blakey quintet of this recording (NOT The Jazz Messengers as "amazon" often states - THAT group was not yet born) gives heated performances with plenty of drive (why shouldn't it - with Bakey at the driving wheel)...

But it is Clifford Brown I'll mostly come back to this CD for - his solos are exceptional, showing his range with no flashy showing-off, sparkling with lyricism and beauty rarely surpased by any jazz trumpeter I've heard so far. And the trumpet IS my favorite instrumment in jazz.

Well, since you've already heard this is the essential (and influential) hard bop recording, with the pianist/composer Horace Silver, alto-player Lou Donaldson and Curley Russell on bass, I can just join the general opinion on the quality and importance of this date recorded by Blue Note.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 15 August 2012
It must have been quite a night at Birdland in February 1954, from which these two volumes were recorded (Vol 2 available in a similar cover; red backgrounds instead of blue).
A big draw is - and must then have been too - the generous, ecstatic trumpet of the late Clifford Brown (1930-56) whose playing here is as good as anywhere else in his all too brief career. Listen to his marvellous soloing on the gorgeous ballad Once In A While.
It`s an intriguing line-up, with Horace Silver luxury casting on piano, and Lou Donaldson making a reedily pleasing sound on alto sax. Blakey drives it all along with his customary pulverising panache, with Curly Russell keeping up the pulse on bass.
After a short announcement by the tiny, helium-voiced Pee Wee Marquette, Birdland`s MC, matters come to an immediate head with the blistering Split Kick, one of three Silver compositions, then it`s into the above-mentioned ballad as customers and listeners dry off and get their breath back.
When I first played these two discs I found them a little `crowded`, couldn`t hear the wood for the trees, so to speak, but listening further there are all sorts of delights to be had, with bags of live atmosphere adding to the date`s relentless feel.
There`s a sweaty nine-minute A Night In Tunisia as well, Brown playing his heart out on the joyous climax.
With an alternate take of Wee-Dot (a track on Vol 2) and a final improvised number simply and truthfully called Blues, on which Donaldson takes the first exploratory clear-headed solo, followed by a blissed-out Brownie, this is the Art Blakey Quintet (they were yet to be dubbed the Jazz Messengers) in coruscating form. Besides, any chance to hear the great Brownie blowing hard and hearty is not to be missed.
A very lively live one.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 31 July 2015
The great drummer/bandleader Art Blakey(1919-90) and his quintet(not yet named the Jazz Messengers) were in blazing form at the Birdland Club, New York City on February 21, 1954.
With Blakey(drums) were Clifford Brown(trumpet); Lou Donaldson(alto sax); Horace Silver(piano) & Curley Russell(bass).
The seven memorable tracks include originals from Silver, Dizzy Gillespie as well as a standard and a blues.
The RVG Edition(2001) of 'A Night At Birdland, Volume 1' is an exhilarating and atmospheric hard bop recording with inspired solos from Clifford Brown, Lou Donaldson & Horace Silver spurred on by Blakey's brilliant drumming.
It is a cornerstone of any modern jazz collection along with Volume 2.
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