Art Blakey: Drum Suite

Columbia/Sony BMG Music;

Rs. 399 (CD)

Art Blakey was one of the greatest drummers in the be-bop and hard bop idioms of jazz, and had a big hand in the evolution of the latter genre. In the early 1950s, he took a keen interest in the African percussion roots of the rhythms that underlay jazz.

The drum suite of the title of this album, comprising its first three tracks, was recorded at a 1957 session in which five drummers/percussionists participated along with a pianist and a bassist. The remaining six tracks come from two separate sessions in 1956 with more conventional line-ups, comprising, besides Blakey, trumpet, tenor or alto saxophone, piano and bass. On these latter tracks, solos on trumpet, saxophone and piano figure most prominently, with the occasional bass or drum solo thrown in.

Of greatest interest among these numbers, all brilliantly executed, is the role of Ira Sullivan on the last two tracks, two different takes of “The New Message”. Apart from soloing on tenor sax, he also engages in some interesting two-trumpet exchanges with Donald Byrd, the main trumpeter. Sullivan’s facility in switching between the two instruments is breathtaking.

The line-up for the drum suite is Ray Bryant on piano, Oscar Pettiford on bass/ cello, Jo Jones and Blakey on orthodox drums, Specs Wright on drums, tympani and other percussion, Candido Camero on congas and other percussion (he also switches to bass while Pettiford takes a cello solo on “Oscalypso”, a calypso composed by himself), and Sabu Martinez on bongos, congas and other percussion.

These three pieces, with their vocal call-and-response sections, in which one of the musicians chants something and the others respond in chorus, and their extensive percussion interludes, is quite different from orthodox jazz and evocative of its African origins. Bryant and Pettiford naturally bear the brunt of the melodic work including the solo improvisations. The novelty of this beautiful suite almost makes the remaining six tracks seem anticlimactic, but the high degree of musicianship all through the album dispels any such impression.

Abbey Lincoln: Who Used to Dance

Verve/Polygram; Rs. 525 (CD)

Abbey Lincoln was for some time married to Max Roach, who was the leading drummer of the be-bop age and died last year.

From Roach she imbibed a strong sense of rhythm and learnt to choose material that holds meaning for her and sing it in a way that expresses the meaning. Music thus being a vehicle of self-expression, the songs she sings on this album all tell of themes that seem dear to her, many dealing with singing or dancing and many composed by her. And although the lyrics have diversity, the music as a whole gives us the impression of a unity of theme, almost as if she were singing a saga.

Lincoln has picked a formidable array of musicians to back her voice on the nine tracks here, of whom Marc Cary on piano and Michael Bowie on bass are constant on the first eight tracks, but most of the others are shuffled around quite a lot. Alto saxophones in different hands (three of them on one track) also figure strongly, most of them quite lyrical in their sound and matching Lincoln’s haunting voice. Marked by plenty of solo improvisation by the instrumentalists (but none by Lincoln herself), the album with its unusual structure manages to sound quite avant-garde without putting off the lay listener, thanks to its emotional intensity.

The use of tap dancing, an art popular during the early years of jazz but quite out of fashion by 1996, when this album was recorded, adds an interesting and appropriate touch to the title track and reinforces the already strong rhythmic quality of the music.


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