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Art Blakey/Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers

First Flight to Tokyo: The Lost 1961 Recordings

First Flight to Tokyo: The Lost 1961 Recordings

UPC: 602435952864

Format: LP (2 disc)

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This set is a previously unissued gig by one of the greatest lineups in the long history of Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers -- Blakey, drums; Bobby Timmons, piano; Wayne Shorter, saxophone; Lee Morgan, trumpet; Jymie Merrit, bass. First Flight to Tokyo: The Lost 1961 Recordings are drawn from the final shows of the band's first tour of Japan. They were professionally recorded on a Nagra tape recorder to serve as a soundtrack for a documentary film that was never completed. At some point over the decades, the original tapes were transferred to quarter-inch tape reels, cataloged, shelved, and sat some more -- they were never really "lost."
The set commences with the drummer's incendiary solo (the first of two) introducing a nearly 23-minute version of Charlie Parker's "Now's the Time." (There's another, slightly shorter one included as well.) The track also offers a stellar, high-wire solo by Shorter. Morgan enters later, walking out the soul-blues to add ballast to the saxophonist's attack. Timmons delivers one of his most lyrical solos here. The pianist's "Moanin'" follows and underscores his role as one of the fathers of soul-jazz. It swings and lopes, with Morgan reprising the phrases from the studio version, plus a rare, driving break from Merritt. Shorter's solo delves into edgy modalism. Benny Golson's "Blues March" is delivered with requisite groove and sass here thanks in no small part to Morgan's swaggering yet playful solo. "Dat Dere," another signature composition by Timmons, finds the two-horn lyric theme setting the pace as Shorter delivers the first solo, moaning, swooping, and shouting through the horn. Morgan tempers his burn with a beautifully parsed solo drenched in blue. Timmons answers with an elegant yet meaty break filled with augmented chords and phrases. Thelonious Monk's "'Round About Midnight" has limited solo opportunities for Timmons and Shorter, but it's a graceful vehicle for Morgan, with his muted horn offering tender emotional resonance at every turn. The band plays their oft-recorded version of Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia" with requisite physicality and verve. There are smoking codas and solos from Shorter and Morgan, while Timmons' muscular comping pushes the horns hard as Merritt and Blakey swing hard. During the saxophonist's solo, the leader enthusiastically exhorts him to "whip it," urging the entire band to play harder and faster.
The booklet is copiously illustrated and annotated. It contains loads of rare photos, as well as interviews with Lou Donaldson, Wayne Shorter, Sadao Watanabe, and drummers Billy Hart, Louis Hayes, and Cindy Blackman Santana. It also contains a finely detailed, authoritative liner essay by Bob Blumenthal. First Flight to Tokyo: The Lost 1961 Recordings is an essential listen for hardcore Jazz Messengers fans. Newcomers might be better served by checking out 1954's A Night at Birdland or 1956's At the Café Bohemia first. That said, this set does prove yet again that this band always showed up to play with intensity as well as virtuosity. ~ Thom Jurek

Tracks:

Disc 1:
1 - Now's the Time
2 - Moanin'
3 - Blues March
4 - Theme
Disc 2:
1 - Dat Dere
2 - 'Round About Midnight
3 - Now's the Time [Version 2]
4 - Night in Tunisia
5 - Theme [Version 2]