Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers - Mosaic

Blue Note

Mosaic cover

Recorded 2nd October 1961 by Rudy Van Gelder at Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


Freddie Hubbard (trumpet)
Wayne Shorter (tenor sax)
Curtis Fuller (trombone)
Cedar Walton (piano)
Jymie Merritt (bass)
Art Blakey (drums)


Mosaic, Down Under, Children of the Night, Arabia, Crisis,

Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers all but defined hard bop. Powered by Art Blakey’s compulsive, polyrhythmic drumming which transformed jazz drumming in the 50s and 60s, a succession of brilliant players who would do so much to shape jazz in the coming decades took their place at the forefront of his music – Horace Silver, Donald Byrd, Jackie McLean, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Cedar Walton, Curtis Fuller. And following the difficult period in the ‘seventies when mainstream jazz could not find an audience, in the ‘eighties a new generation of Jazz Messengers were inducted and educated in Art Blakey’s band – developing the careers of Wynton Marsalis, Wallace Rooney, Terence Blanchard and Mulgrew Miller.

The two greatest line-ups featured Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter (1960 –1961) and then Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter and Curtis Fuller (1961 – 1964). The first line up produced the great albums “A Night In Tunisia”, “Roots and Herbs”, “The Freedom Rider” and “The Witch Doctor”; the second line up produced the even better albums “Mosaic”, “Buhaina’s Delight” and “Free For All”. “Indestructible!” is a further hybrid when Lee Morgan then rejoined for one album, replacing Freddie Hubbard but keeping the sextet format in place. The addition of Curtis Fuller on trombone allowed a fuller, more complex harmonic approach to be taken and, if anything to then allow the hard rhythmic underpinnings of the music to become the more intense (listen to, for example, “Hammerhead” or “Free For All” on the “Free For All” album where the music becomes as heavy as any jazz played anywhere)

Art Blakey had learned piano in his home town of Pitsburgh and had his own big band by the age of fifteen. He switched to drums when Errol Garner took over the piano slot and the rest, as they say, is history. By 1939 he was touring with the Fletcher Henderson band before joining Billy Eckstein three years later in New York. Gigging brought him sessions with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. By1948, he had visited Africa to learn polyrhythmic drumming and also took up Islam, adopting the name Abdullah Ibn Buhaina, and being referred to as “Bu” by friends and colleagues. 1955 was the year of the partnership with Horace Silver that led to the first Jazz Messengers band. When Horace Silver left, the name remained with Art Blakey and became a premier rallying point for new jazz talent over the next thirty five years.

“Mosaic” finds the band in 1961 with the partnership between Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller and Wayne Shorter in full bloom. The album conveys a maturity and an elegance that sets it above the thrash jazz of “A Night In Tunisia” or ‘Free For All” and yet the music stays true to the spirit of hard bop – challenging, demanding, uplifting, pointing to the possibility of transformation. Beauty in the face of the corruption of the world. A hard beauty that is indestructible. In that sense this is music which is heir to the legacy of the blues.

The increased harmonic range that was obtained by expanding the band to a six-piece and including Curtis Fuller on trombone allows those long blowing melodies with trombone, trumpet and sax playing in unison and often in harmony defiantly to set out the stall for the fragile power of beauty. The underlying rhythm with drums, piano and bass mines out deep troughs of tension and potential betrayal. Solos from Freddie Hubbard, then Wayne Shorter, then Curtis Fuller suggest how the transforming power of the imagination might accomplish a change in the sombre reality, towards the triumph of beauty in the face of an uncertain future, perhaps towards new understanding. This kind of reasoning can go too far of course, but perhaps it is worth it if it offers a taste of the spirit of transformation that lights up this music.

The band has almost a surfeit of compositional talent, with “Mosiac” contributed by Cedar Walton, “Arabia” by Curtis Fuller, “Children of the Night” by Wayne Shorter and “Crisis and “Down Under” both by Freddie Hubbard. It is to be noted that Art Blakey depended on his sidemen in this way throughout his long career.

On “Mosaic” some weird time signature changes are set off by the contrast between Art Blakey’s straight ahead drumming and the undermining vamping chords from Cedar Walton on piano. Above this the three horns hamonise the main themes and break off into a series of vivid solos. Then Art Blakey’s drum solo breaks even this state of equilibrium. This solo could be offered as a summary of his whole career as a jazz drummer. Coming in after four and half minutes has set the scene so fully, he builds from a quiet standing start, producing steadily more complex cross rhythms against the ever steady beat of his own high hat cymbal. Two minutes later and it is complete. No sense of long and boring virtuosity, the intensity remains and has been built higher as the band members come back in for their final restatements.

“Children Of The Night” is a significant composition by Wayne Shorter who many have said was in effect acting as the band’s musical director in this period. The piece, which was later reworked for Wayne Shorter’s 1995 collaboration with Marcus Miller that led to the album “High Life”. It is a complex and haunting theme built around transitions from a C minor 11 base that finally resolves itself as C major7. Wayne Shorter is at his most Coltrane-like here in his inventive sax soloing.

“Down Under”, the first of the Freddie Hubbard compositions is an upfront blues with the uplifting “Pentecostal” feeling that Art Blakey and Horace Silver had somehow appropriated from church music and which became a staple feature of much of their lighter, more danceable themes. Freddie Hubbard understands the form so well that despite the fact that this is his first formal recording date with the Messengers, this could easily be taken as Horace Silver composition.

Curtis Fuller’s “Arabia” has stylistic similarities to “Mosaic”. It has a similar North African feel but it is lighter, more open in concept. The opening trumpet solo by Freddie Hubbard is pure virtuosity. Again, Art Blakey solos, this time at shorter length and perhaps more conventionally but the trademark rock steady 2/4 high hat emphasis remains the linchpin around which the whole piece is organized.

“Crisis” is Freddie Hubbard’s take on the nuclear war threat that occupied so much of people’s attention around the time that led up to the Cuban missiles crisis of 1962. He had earlier recorded his own, longer version in August 1961 and this appears on the Freddie Hubbard album “Ready For Freddie” (see our upcoming detailed review). The version of “Crisis” here is taken at a somewhat brisker pace but conyeys the same sense of build up of tension (on top of an open and appealing bass riff) that is suddenly released in a new, hard blowing theme.

Overall, probably the best of some dozen albums by Art Blakey, any one of which could be cited as essential listening for anyone interested in hard bop and its legacy for mainstream jazz.

Star Rating ****

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Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers - Mosaic

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