Art Blakey and the Giants of Jazz
Live at the 1972 Monterey Jazz Festival
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2008, Volume 15, #11
Written by John Metzger
Sun November 23, 2008, 06:30 AM CST
On September 16, 1972, Art Blakey and the Giants of Jazz concluded its year-long existence with a performance at the Monterey Jazz Festival. There was, however, one hitch to its appearance at the event: Dizzy Gillespie, who had anchored the horn section throughout the ensemble’s world tour, was forced to depart in order to fulfill his other obligations, essentially leaving the group without its star trumpeter. Such a loss could have had an immense impact upon the Giants of Jazz, but the addition of Roy Eldridge and Clark Terry helped to minimize the effects of Gillespie’s absence.
Over the course of the hour-long program, the Giants of Jazz ran through a set that touched upon the rich and vibrant history of the ensemble’s individual members. A cover of Perdido, for example, alluded to Clark Terry’s affiliation with Duke Ellington, while Blue ’n‘ Boogie and A Night in Tunisia — the group’s opening and closing statements — paid homage to Gillespie. Returning to the spotlight, pianist Thelonious Monk also contributed his own composition ’Round Midnight. In other words, the set that was performed by the Giants of Jazz was composed of material that was as legendary as its line-up.
Considering that Gillespie was replaced late in the game, it stands to reason that the Giants of Jazz would lose some of the momentum and chemistry that it had developed during its run. This, however, is only partially true. Although there were moments when the soloists seemed somewhat hesitant to jump into the fray — thus making the mid-song transitions sound, at times, a little awkward — they quickly regained their poise in a way that leant the set a loose and playful air.
Collectively, the Giants of Jazz aggressively steamed through Blue ’n‘ Boogie, while Monk completely tossed convention aside in order to provide a skewed but nonetheless perfect lead into Al McKibbon’s sturdy bass solo. Anchored by the ensemble’s rock-solid rhythm section, Perdido and A Night in Tunisia also swung relentlessly as Terry, Eldridge, saxophonist Sonny Stitt, and trombonist Kai Winding unleashed relaxed solos that also found ways of burning with immense intensity. The ballads stood in sharp contrast to the rest of the material, with Stardust and I Can’t Get Started with You, in particular, standing as sublime portraits of beauty and grace.
Perhaps, the biggest issue with the Giants of Jazz’s set at Monterey was that its slower material was tucked in sequence into the center of its performance. Although the songs were all well-executed — and kept remarkably concise — the pacing of the show suffered from such a long stretch of ballads. Even so, Live at the 1972 Monterey Jazz Festival is filled with lively, emotional music, and in the end, there is no doubt that the participants earned their name. ½
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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