Getcha Some Ugetsu


Riverside Records sure picked a winner for its first live recording at NYC's famous Birdland in 1963: Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers captured onstage in Ugetsu, reminted in March 2011 with bonus cuts in the Original Jazz Classics Remasters series. In terms of "star power," this version of the Jazz Messengers was one of the most powerful jazz groups ever assembled: Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, trombonist Curtis Fuller, and pianist Cedar Walton leaped into highly visible and successful solo careers from these respective chairs.

But, while it's tempting to focus on its soloists, what's most remarkable about Ugetsu is this star-studded ensembles' strident, nearly ferocious, singleness of purpose. Walton's title track, evocative jazz impressions of Japan, provides the linchpin. Among the four previously unreleased tracks, Hubbard and Walton sound too daring and fast to be believed in "The High Priest," Fuller's craggy homage to the iconic Thelonious Monk, while Blakey detonates his only solos to set off George Shearing's classic jazz "Conception."

Believe me, if you couldn't stay in front of Blakey on your instrument, his drums would rumble right over you. There's power in Ugetsu -- especially, but not only, from Blakey's indefatigable engine -- that defies the written word. Blakey's Jazz Messengers Concord catalog features several other titles recorded by this same band: The landmark Caravan from the previous year (1962), now available in the Keepnews Collection; and Kyoto (1990, OJC), an extension of Ugetsu's fascination with Japan, recorded in 1964.

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    The High Priest

    Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, from Uge ...