Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Just Coolin’ (2020) [FLAC 24bit/192kHz]

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Just Coolin’ (2020)
FLAC (tracks) 24-bit/192 kHz | Time – 38:53 minutes | 1,45 GB | Genre: Jazz
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download | Front Cover | © Blue Note Records

Blue Note will issue a never-before-released studio album by Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, Just Coolin’, on 17 July. It was recorded on 8 March 1959 in the Hackensack, New Jersey studio of feted recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder.

Blakey was joined on the session by a short-lived line-up of the Jazz Messengers that also featured Lee Morgan on trumpet, tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, pianist Bobby Timmons and bassist Jymie Merritt. The opening track from the LP, ‘Hipsippy Blues,’ is now available to stream or download. Just Coolin’ can be pre-ordered now in a variety of formats: CD, digital download, and an all-analog 180 gram vinyl pressing mastered by Kevin Gray.

This time capsule, recorded in 1959 in Rudy Van Gelder’s Hackensack, NJ, living room and left undisturbed in the Blue Note vaults until now, contains the essential DNA of the first flowering of hard bop in the late ’50s. All the genre hallmarks are present: There are intricate chase-scene originals and clever arrangements (the standard “Close Your Eyes”) and brash blues-inflected outbursts that light up the solos. And yet, transcending those individual traits, defining not just the notes but the very spirit of the endeavor, is a quality that doesn’t get discussed enough in jazz—precision, as in persnickety dotted i’s and crossed t’s.

At times it’s downright startling hearing these five musicians nail the details to the wall. They’re hardly “just coolin’” here; they’re attentive to the small nuances of tunes that might have been written the morning of the session. You can detect the commitment in the pitch-bending doiiiits and the staccato single-note jabs, in the explosion of a long-cresting press roll and the deliberate, nothing-extra stride of a Blakey-trademarked medium-tempo swing. You can hear it in the way trumpeter Lee Morgan and tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley phrase together, adding grace notes that are almost inaudible but key nonetheless. And you can’t miss it in the thrillingly open lanes where the solos happen. Blakey was revered for the communication he cultivated between musicians; using a repertoire of hits and jabs, he pulled his collaborators into rich, sometimes boisterous discussions, a mode of interplay that in many ways defines hard bop.

There are plenty of examples on this record, but perhaps the most crystalline comes during Morgan’s first few choruses on “Jimerick,” a blazing uptempo blues. He begins with a short inversion of the theme, first restating it in a lazy way. Then he articulates more aggressively, as though trying to establish consensus on the tempo. Blakey picks that up, and jabs out an even sharper response from the metal rim of the snare drum. That unleashes some mean Morgan double-time bebop; what began as a single-note bugle call becomes an intricate conversation. Each element of that conversation is notable for its clarity, and each new soloist contributes to it in a different way—check the unhurried, wonderfully lucid way Mobley carves up the opening “Hipsippy Blues.” The tune is one of three originals Mobley wrote for the date, and if it’s familiar that’s because it was included on a monumental live recording captured a few months later—At the Jazz Corner of the World, a fiery and complex document that’s become part of the “essential listening” jazz canon. Just Coolin’, which is apparently the only other recording of this short lived incarnation of the group, might be a step below that in terms of intensity. But only a step. – Tom Moon


1. Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Hipsippy Blues
2. Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Close Your Eyes
3. Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Jimerick
4. Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Quick Trick
5. Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – M&M
6. Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Just Coolin’