An early Blakey line-up in the years before Mobley/Timmons came on the scene – late 1957. Lets get real here, there is no world shortage of Art Blakey records. The interest is in Hardman and Griffin, a punchy and vigorous front line.
The art of transcription - of recasting music, more or less literally, from one performance medium into another - has been a common practice for a long time. A good transcription (or a paraphrase) tests the abilities and the imagination of the transcriber as much as the creation of an original composition. Trying to maintain the distinct characteristics of a given work, while meeting the demands of a new medium, are not always easily achieved. But in a world where the pursuit of stylistic authenticity has become the performance ideal, transcriptions and paraphrases have often been frowned upon by purists as tamperings or sacrilegious alterations with the purity of the composer’s original.
While not a universally praised piece of the Art Blakey discography, The African Beat is quite engaging. Yusef Lateef is the only horn player, featured on oboe, flute, tenor sax, cow horn, and thumb piano with Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass, but trombonist Curtis Fuller is only heard playing tympani – it was that kind of session. The drum ensemble includes Chief Bey, along with five other percussionists on conboro, log, and bata drums with penny whistles, gongs, congas, and African maracas. This is reminiscent of Lateef's more exotic sessions from the same time period, but quite unlike other Blue Note releases from the early '60s.
Master of the Art is the studio companion to the album Night Music, also reissued on Wounded Bird records from the original Elektra Musician masters, with the same band as on the live date, but with completely different songs and a short interview from the trumpeter. At a time when Shaw was one of the most consistently brilliant trumpeter's of the modern era, this effort did nothing to hurt that estimable reputation. Vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and trombonist Steve Turre being on the front line made for an arresting sound, while the emerging pianist Mulgrew Miller was asserting himself as a major force, with drummer Stafford James and drummer Tony Reedus sounding like they had worked together for decades. The four tracks include here are quite lengthy, allowing for stretched melody lines and beefy solos, showing the inventiveness and stamina of this mighty sextet.