959 - Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers 'Moanin' (1958)

My Rating: 2.86 out of 5
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die: X
Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums: X
The Mojo Collection: X

Chart Peak (UK/US): --/--

Favourite Tracks: Moanin', Along Came Betty
Least-Favourite Track: Drum Thunder Suite

A few posts back I pledged to get this blog moving & write more regularly. Unfortunately fate had other plans for me & dropped a dungball the size of Wembley Stadium on my head from a great height. This isn't really an appropriate forum for my health woes so I'll just say that I've discovered an awful lot about life in the last few months, not least that cancer is not always something that happens to other people. Having spent way too much time around doctors & hospitals, it's a relief to finally be back at home & to get back to listening to some music. So I'll just get on with it.

I love the cover of this record; a frowning Art Blakey looks like he's about to punch someone in the gob (presumably unleashing his fists with a few press rolls & paradiddles). It's an apt photo too because as a drummer he's got an aggressive, raw edge to his playing that seems to propel every track along with its vitality.

I already knew Blakey could thump those skins, but I never realised quite what an expressive performer he was too. Listening to the album several times, you start to notice how cleverly his drum rolls punctuate & accentuate the melody lines, subtly steering the songs in whatever direction he wants them to go. It's almost as if his drumsticks are a pair of conductor's batons, lifting & dropping the mood of every track. Such a strong rhythmic emphasis is one of the benefits of having a drummer as bandleader - one of the drawbacks is the rather self-indulgent Drum Thunder Suite; seven & a half minutes of what is essentially drum soloing & showboating with a few other instruments chucked in here & there.

The album rating also suffers a little by the rather odd decision to feature an alternate take of title-track Moanin' right after the original. It is not significantly different & simply disrupts the flow of the record having the 9+ minute long opening-track (good as it is) more or less repeated straight after it has just ended. (I notice in later CD releases this alternate version was shifted to the end of the album which makes a lot more sense).

Those gripes aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this album. I've owned it for several years but, like many of my records, prior to doing this blog I never took the time to listen to the whole thing properly from beginning to end. I'm still slightly puzzled how it came to appear in the (largely rock & pop dominated) Top 1000. I guess part of it is that like Miles Davis' A Kind Of Blue or Coltrane's A Love Supreme, it's regarded by the critical cognoscenti as one of those 'classic' jazz albums that every music fan should own. It certainly introduced two cracking jazz compositions in title-track Moanin' & Along Came Betty and is a very good example of hard-bop's more soulful (and accessible) sound. Personally I think there are better Art Blakey albums out there (Free For All for a start) but Moanin' works well as a starting-point for anyone interested in his music.


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