July 2008

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers - A Night In Tunisia
Blue Note/Music Matters MMBST-84049
Originally released: 1960
Reissue released: 2008
Format: LP

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

You may be getting tired of reading review after review praising the Music Matters Blue Note reissues -- 45rpm double-LP sets created by Joe Harley, Ron Rambach, Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray. The deluxe packaging keeps getting better and better -- glossier, thicker cover stock and crisper photos -- but the sound quality has been there since the beginning. The best of the present releases that I own, which is all of them as I am a subscriber to the series, is Art Blakey’s A Night In Tunisia. Featuring Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Bobby Timmons, and Jymie Merritt along with the inimitable Blakey, this was one of the Messengers' finest lineups. All but the title number were written by band members, which shows just how exceptional these musicians really were. Each tune features plenty of space for all to display their improvisational abilities. Because this album is a bona fide classic, I doubt I need to go into detail as to its musical worth, but I will say that it’s one of the best that Blakey and his important group produced -- from opening tune to end.

It's the sound that generates the greatest interest with this new version. Never have I heard Blakey’s drum set reproduced with such accuracy. Blakey was noted for his explosiveness, and this album demonstrates why he earned that reputation. Every snap, crackle, and cymbal crash comes blasting out of the right speaker (which is a neat trick, because Wayne Shorter’s tenor sax is very definitely in front of Blakey’s drums). Both Shorter and Morgan on trumpet sound clean, clear, and tonally accurate. The only instrument that isn’t up to the rest sonically is Timmons' piano, which should come as no real surprise as recording piano was not one of Rudy Van Gelder’s strong points. But Hoffman and Gray do the best job with a Van Gelder-recorded piano as I’ve heard.

If you’ve been sitting on the fence trying to decide whether or not to purchase any of these LPs, this is the one to start with. Once you hear it, I’m willing to bet you'll become a subscriber too.