art blakey and the jazz messengers - caravan

Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers: Caravan (1962)

Keeping this one brief…not only because it’s late and I’m slightly drunk, but also because often writing about jazz eludes me.  So…in that vein let’s talk about Caravan, which not only is the first album the Art Blakey Jazz Messengers recorded for Riverside Records, but it was the first jazz album I ever bought on vinyl.  Featuring incredible performances from the likes of Freddie Hubbard and Wayne Shorter, not to mention Blakey’s insane drumming prowess, it was an opportunity for me to discover a new voice I didn’t already know, as opposed to picking something up I was already familiar with.

New, but not new. I of course knew Shorter from his stint with Miles Davis in the mid to late 60s, and Freddie Hubbard has played with some of the best in jazz as well as leading his own bands.  But apart from some earlier work on compilations I was relatively green when it came to Blakey’s work as either a bandleader or a sidemam.  Working as a sextet for the first time (Hubbard and Shorter are accompanied by Curtis Fuller on trombone), everything you could ask for is right there on the opening track, a beautifully expressive and vigorous cut of Ellington’s “Caravan.”  It opens with a Blakey solo before jumping into the main theme, and here is where having it on vinyl really shines: playing it loud through my (relatively) new speakers the drums felt like they were right in my face.  And the combination of three horns weaving in and out of the melody was entrancing.

This has always been the power of jazz for me; the way a line can suddenly shift from rigorously carrying the tune to blown out improvisation and back again.  How lines will trade off between instruments.  How you can hear the breaths in the spaces. Shorter was already coming into his own as a composer, contributing the smooth cool bop of “Sweet ‘n’ Sour” and the solo showcase that is “This is For Albert,” a tribute to Bud Powell.

And Hubbard is fierce on Caravan…it’s often forgotten how incredible he is with the trumpet because the story is often overshadowed by the accomplishments of Miles Davis at the time.  Which to be fair – his accomplishments can never be measured.  BUT…take a minute to run through the amazing records Hubbard has contributed to.  Oliver Nelson’s Blues and the Abstract Truth.  Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz.  John Coltrane’s Olé AND Ascension.  Not to mention his own recordings as a bandleader.  Here he contributes the absolutely beautiful “Thermo” and  I can’t think of anything to add before it hits midnight and I miss my daily deadline…


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