The fact that the tapes dated from 1963, right in the middle of the saxophonist’s most celebrated period, signaled that this was a major find. The same applies to Just Coolin’, a never-before-released album from Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers that’s due out in April from Blue Note: Its recording date of March 1959, just a couple of months after the release of the group’s hard-bop masterpiece Moanin’, tells us that this could be one of the year’s standout archival releases.
Not just a powerhouse drummer — known for his driving beat and commanding snare rolls — the late Blakey was also known as one of the top talent scouts in jazz. From the mid-Fifties through the early Nineties, his Jazz Messengers featured everyone from Lee Morgan and Keith Jarrett to Wynton and Branford Marsalis. The spring of 1959 found Blakey in between two classic lineups, including saxophonist-composers Benny Golson and Wayne Shorter, respectively. In between, the drummer recruited saxist Hank Mobley, a Blue Note mainstay who had played in an earlier version of the Messengers.
At the time, the ’59 Messengers — with Blakey, Mobley, Lee Morgan on trumpet, Bobby Timmons on piano, and Jymie Merritt on bass — put out just one record: At the Jazz Corner of the World, a two-volume live album recorded that April at New York’s Birdland (not to be confused with Meet You at the Jazz Corner of the World, another live Jazz Messengers release recorded at Birdland in 1960). That album included three Mobley originals — “Hipsippy Blues,” “M & M,” and “Just Coolin'” — as well as the Bernice Petkere standard “Close Your Eyes.” As it turns out, the group had recorded all four of those pieces, plus Timmons’ “Quick Trick” and the uncredited tune “Jimerick,” the prior month at the first location of engineer Rudy Van Gelder’s famed studio, then located in his parents’ living room in Hackensack, New Jersey. But at the time, Blue Note producer/co-founder Alfred Lion chose to put out the Birdland sessions and keep the studio date on the shelf.
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At the Jazz Corner is a stellar record, a great example of the Messengers’ signature sound: classy, soulful, finger-snapping feel-good jazz. And Just Coolin’ in no way replaces it. But any Jazz Messengers — especially material from this period, with this caliber of players on board, and expertly captured by Van Gelder, the engineer whose sound is synonymous with Blue Note — is worth hearing, and Just Coolin’ is a handsome addition to the catalog.
Timmons’ “Quick Trick,” which is out today, is a charming midtempo tune that finds the band squarely in its hard-swinging element. Lee Morgan’s expressive solo, introduced by one of Blakey’s trademark rolls, is a standout, and Mobley’s feature shows how well he meshed with the drummer’s irresistible ride-cymbal groove.
Just Coolin’ is out on April 24th from Blue Note.