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The Witch Doctor (1961)

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Bobby Timmons

Into the third year of utilizing late-'20s superstars trumpeter Lee Morgan and tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter on the front line, Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers were showing a progressive compositional stance, mostly due to the emerging creativity of Shorter's sharply off-minor ideas. Pianist Bobby Timmons, a peer of the front liners, is swimming somewhere in the middle of this stylistic lake, exhibiting soulful backstrokes, straight-ahead sprinting, and the angular chordal complexities or sudden changes any potpourri of modernities might offer. Faithful bassist Jymie Merritt, no young pup at the time (seven years Blakey's junior) is solid, unspectacular, and right where this band of stars needed him to be. Writing chores continue to be split evenly between the horn players, but Shorter's pieces are distinct with a difference. "Those Who Sit and Wait" is a classic hard bop line with opposing non-sequitur melody/harmony cross sections, while "Joelle" sports two piano chords from Timmons leading to unusual phrasings, but still in a hard bop stance. Morgan contributes the title track and an alternate take with its typical and reliable hard bop shuffle buoying quirky horn and piano exchanges, and the spectacular "Afrique" with a 6/8 modal, choppy clave Latin beat merging to easy swing from the heavy tenor of Shorter -- the best of three worlds. Timmons contributes "A Little Busy" which is not far removed from the soul-jazz he is known for, a fun and funky groove biscuit where the pianist is truly in his element. "Lost & Found," penned by Clifford Jordan, showcases the straight-ahead signature sound the Jazz Messengers mined for decades -- upbeat, happy and tight. Whether this was or was not the pinnacle for this great band is still up for debate, but it assuredly ranks with Blakey's personal best aside from the popular album Moanin' of the same time frame. ~ Michael G. Nastos