Tony Allen’s Tribute To Art Blakey

Afrobeat legend and drummer, Tony Allen, was strongly influenced by the recordings of Art Blakey. For his first release on Blue Note Records, he pays a tribute to one of the greatest hard bop drummers in jazz history by blending hard bop with the afrobeat rhythmic subtlety. The recordings got released in May 2017. That year, Tony Allen continued returning to his jazz roots and, a couple of months later, he released his first full-length album on Blue Note titled The Source.

The recordings for the extended play of A Tribute To Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers were an opportunity to document his interpretations. “I’m trying to change the pages,” Allen explains during a live performance. Tony Allen plays afrobeat and, he does not compromise, even when playing jazz standards. In the mini-album, he shows his jazz side and the way he is fusing the genres.

Allen doesn’t actually “swing” at all on these four standards associated with Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, instead putting each through his own Afrobeat prism.” London-based journalist and editor John Lewis explains in his review for The Guardian.

Moanin’ is reinvented in straight eighths, Politely is played in a rocking 6/8 rhythm, while A Night in Tunisia is transformed into a series of wonderfully jerky, disjointed riffs. Throughout, Allen’s Parisian septet improvises inventively around these unusual meters, most impressively on the Drum Thunder Suite, where one of Blakey’s many flirtations with West African music is, in turn, Africanised.

The release features four tracks associated with Art Blakey. It opens with Bobby Timmons’ celebrated composition Moanin’. The song got first recorded by Art Blakey’s band in 1958 and was released the following year on the album originally titled Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (BLP 4003). The Blue Note original album also includes Benny Golson’s and Art Blakey’s track The Drum Thunder Suite, which is the final and fourth song on Allen’s homage.

The second track is the signature piece of Dizzy Gillespie’s bebop big band, A Night in Tunisia. The song has associations with Art Blakey thanks to trumpeter Lee Morgan, who was part of Gillespie’s band between 1956 and 1958. Morgan got spotlighted with his solo work during live performances of A Night in Tunisia. He joined Art Blakey’s band, and in 1961, they released the album titled A Night In Tunisia (BLP 4049). The album opens with a hard bop adaptation of Gillespie’s composition, giving the drums a significant solo status.

The third track is the jazz standard Politely, composed by trumpeter Bill Hardman. The song got originally released on the Blue Note album titled The Big Beat (BLP 4029) by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers (released in 1960). Bill Hardman, who was part of The Jazz Messengers between 1956 and 1958 (called the “Second” Messengers), did not take part in the recordings. Instead, Lee Morgan, who was the main trumpeter of The Jazz Messengers between 1959 and 1961, provided the trumpet line.

Just Coolin’ With Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers

Just Coolin’ is the result of a unique but short-lived ensemble of The Jazz Messengers collective. Originally founded and led by drummer Art Blakey, The Jazz Messengers knew many changes. “Stability can be elusive for even the most successful jazz ensembles,” author Bob Blumenthal wrote. In 1959, Hank Mobley, an alumnus of the band, replaced Benny Golson’s tenor saxophone in the band and he joined Lee Morgan (trumpet), Bobby Timmons (piano), Jymie Merritt (bass), and Art Blakey (drums) for a brief period.

The studio album was recorded on a single day in March 1959 at the famous Rudy Van Gelder studio in New Jersey. However, Blue Note Records co-founder Alfred Lion decided not to release the album and instead record a live performance at the famous Birdland club in New York. The live album titled At the Jazz Corner of the World was released in 1959 and remained the only issued recording of this jazz ensemble until Just Coolin’ was released in 2020.

Just Coolin’ features six songs including two unissued tracks: Quick Trick composed by Bobby Timmons (who also composed the jazz standard Moanin‘), and the uncredited composition Jimerick. Hank Mobley left the group already in July 1959 but, his contributions to the album were paramount. Half of the songs on the album are from his hand, including the almost nine minutes long title track, Just Coolin’.

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Just Coolin’ ℗ Blue Note Records