Recorded on October 30th of 1958 and released in January of 1959, Moanin’ by Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers marked Art Blakey’s return to Blue Note Records, and what a return it was. A powerful collection of inspired tunes, Moanin’ pushed the boundaries of new areas of jazz less, and delved deep into the nuances of several jazz roots more. Moanin’s focus on musical conversations involved the talents of Art Blakey on drums, Lee Morgan on trumpet, Benny Golson on tenor saxophone, Bobby Timmons on piano, and Jymie Merritt on upright bass.
The album invokes roots in New Orleans jazz and strong blues connections, as heard on the title track “Moanin’.” There is an immensely intelligent musical dialogue among band mates; a casual stroll-on-the-boardwalk atmosphere and the wise chatter of soloists wash over the listener. “Cry a Blue Tear,” borrowing mainly from Latin music, contains a great forward movement delving into the get-up-and-dance elements of Latin music.
Moanin’ became a cornerstone of hard bop for the time. The ingenuity and accuracy of Blakey’s drumming ensure cohesion among the members of the band. Blakey calls on the beginnings of jazz while maintaining its newer hard bop vision, and securing a place for Moanin’ as an essential album of the genre.
Part of the fluidity of the album must be attributed to the eclectic group of musicians in the band. On tracks like “The Drum Thunder Suite,” Blakey’s impeccable drumming is the main feature – put in the spotlight and rightfully so. But what defines the album as truly great is the ability to transition to such a power-house of a tune from a song like “Are You Real”, a largely dynamic and brisk piece written by Benny Golson (tenor sax) and trumpeter Lee Morgan. Each tune contains a thoroughly different context and mood, willing the listener to create their own interpretation of the arc and story behind the album. From the busy and crisp swing of “Are You Real” to the nocturnal stroll of “Along Came Betty” to the poignant and stark fanfare of “Blues March,” there is a through-line buried deep. But this balance of diversity and commonality among tunes fashions the album into an experience you can immerse yourself in as its hidden story line whisks you away.
Stay tuned for the next album!