A Tribute To Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers (ep)
Blue Note Records
Originally released as a 10” EP – two tracks per side – this tribute to Art Blakey by Tony Allen is full of magic; for a start it welcomes Allen to Blue Note and has him playing his version of jazz, which is essentially still his distinctive Afrobeat but with loping, lovely horns providing jazz melodies. A sincere tribute to Blakey – there’s a nice circular feel both in and around the record in that Blakey was inspired by Africa (cf: Orgy In Rhythm) and Allen grew up devoted to the work of Max Roach and Blakey in particular, among other American jazzers.
The selections are wise too – signature pieces: Bobby Timmons Moanin’, Dizzy Gillespie’s Night In Tunisia, Bill Hardman’s Politely and Blakey’s own The Drum Thunder Suite.
Moanin’ opens with wonderful bass playing by Mathias Allamane, his line setting the feel and tone, the baritone sax of Remi Sciuto states the theme of the tune as Allen’s darts about the toms in his distinctive way, crashing down on the cymbals in little stealth-stabs. The bassline is lithe but it creeps all over the melody, does its best to disguise it, throwing a blanket over it and smuggling it back towards Afrobeat.
Allen’s signature tip-toeing shuffle-creep opens the remake of Night in Tunisia. Again with the bassline before Jean Phi Dary’s piano provides the melody here and then the horns hit in with the stabs, Allen marching along behind them. It’s a glorious, infectious, feel-good vibe, a bright, tender reissuing of one jazz music’s staples.
Politely begins with stately piano, it’s the nearest thing to a ballad here, the circular wash of the piano and cymbals swirling into place before the swell of the horns makes this the most vibrant jazz ballad you’ve heard anytime recently.
Allen’s toms rumble away as The Drum Thunder Suite begins, shronking sax sitting beneath and then four minutes in Allen takes his one main solo of the set, the cleverly punctuated percussion, his elasticated fills, seemingly stretching time to suit.
Allen is busier than ever – in his mid/late-70s – and knocking it out of the park every time. This is just the teaser too for a new full album, but as a tribute to Blakey it’s wonderful; a must-hear EP for fans and a perfectly great place to start your Tony Allen obsession if you haven’t already.