Monday, January 19, 2009

Caravan by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers

Caravan was the Riverside debut by perhaps the most star-studded lineup of all Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, with Reggie Workman (bass) and Cedar Walton (piano) alongside Blakey in the rhythm section, and Curtis Fuller (trombone), Wayne Shorter (saxophone) and Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) manning the horn front lines. The album is often acclaimed for this undeniably great band and also for legendary producer Orrin Keepnews' trademark pristine, yet warm production, which is highlighted in the newly remastered Keepnews Collection (released by Riverside).

Even though its energy seeps throughout Caravan like an invisible electric current radiating from Blakey's drum core, we almost never discuss this album in terms of his incredibly powerful, prideful and purposeful performance. Yet Caravan begins with Blakey alone; first rolling and blasting like thunder, then introducing with African accents Walton's centrally organizing piano riff, which then ushers in the rest of this Ellington tune.

You generally wouldn't associate the ballad style with this group of musicians but "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" transforms into a feature for Fuller's surprisingly romantic, nuanced trombone. Shorter's "Sweet 'n' Sour" sounds in your ear like that tastes in your mouth, tangy yet still pleasing, led by the composer's succinct saxophone, Caravan is a great hard bop record by one of the best hard bop bands ever. Even better, it puts you in the mood to reflect upon and appreciate how many genuinely great records Keepnews and Riverside put out during the early '60s.

by Chris Slaweki
Concord Voices, August 2009, p.17

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