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Roots & Herbs (1961)

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Wayne Shorter

Originally recorded in 1961, Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers' Roots & Herbs was first released in 1970 and then reissued on CD in 1999. Like many titles in the Blue Note catalog, this fine Blakey outing was initially shelved by Alfred Lion for unknown reasons; thankfully, considering Blakey's large array of available Blue Note albums, this wasn't necessarily a crisis. But now that it's out once again with a 24-bit digital makeover, Roots & Herbs is definitely a welcome addition to the drum master's CD catalog. Having already been a magnet for such talented hard bop players and writers as Hank Mobley, Benny Golson, Clifford Brown, Horace Silver (who helped form the original group), and Kenny Dorham, the Messengers' lineup of 1961 featured one of Blakey's best rosters: In addition to trumpeter Lee Morgan, who would alternate in the early '60s with Freddie Hubbard, the band featured tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianists Walter Davis, Jr. and Bobby Timmons, and bassist Jymie Merritt. Feeding off six early compositions by Shorter (the CD also includes three alternate takes), all the players reel off topnotch solos atop Blakey's fluidly galvanizing swing beat. Highlights include "Ping Pong," "Look at Birdie," and "Master Mind," compositions that, in their fetchingly askew way, nicely foreshadow the wealth of ideas to come from Shorter's pen throughout the '60s. ~ Stephen Cook