Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Roots & Herbs

Britt Robson

By Britt Robson

on 08.27.12 in Reviews

Roots And Herbs

Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers

Blue Note label head Alfred Lion inexplicably decided to wait nine years to release this underrated gem from the Blakey catalog. Perhaps Roots & Herbs was the victim of the Messengers’ prolific creativity — with Shorter writing furiously, they churned out five studio albums of mostly original material in 1961 alone. Or maybe Lion noticed that Roots & Herbs bore the distinctive musical stamp of Shorter, who wrote all six tunes, more than Blakey. Who else could or would write a song entitled “Ping Pong” that actually had the brittle tone and predictable still yet variegated back-and-forth rhythms of a ping pong game? Or “Look at the Birdie,” based on the Woody Woodpecker cartoon theme? Throw in “United” a rousing waltz that strangely but logically morphs into an Afro-Cuban workout for Blakey, and the slightly off-kilter blues of “The Back Sliders,” with its pause in the chorus. And for the traditionalists, there is the driving hard bop of the title track, and some spirited exchanges between Shorter and Morgan (who plays with high-decibel swagger for most of the disc) on “Master Mind.”