118. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers / Soul Finger (1965)
In 1965, the Jazz Messengers were navigating strange seas. The decade was only half finished but had already seen players like Dolphy, Coltrane, and a host of others. On the other hand, it's like the climate inside the Messengers was oblivious to this. Their music continued ahead, business as usual, driven by Blakey's hailstorm of press rolls and weaponized hi-hat pulse. I feel inclined, or almost obligated, to say what been said a thousand times. I suppose when someone mentions the Messengers, that's the image I conjure: the world's best hard bop band, Blakey at the helm. Yet this lineup feels different than other incarnations of the Messengers, even if it's obvious that no two were the same. The soloists take some unexpected corners, and it's an aggressive front line from the word "go" with Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan blowing alongside Gary Bartz and, on one track, Lucky Thompson. They're explosive but the charm, for me, comes between John Hicks in the left channel and Victor Sproles in the right. I hear a lot going on there. Unforgettable is the debut of Gary Bartz on alto. This disc might not be a definitive Messengers date, but there are some critically overlooked moments packed between these grooves, and a little jazz history, as well.