Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers’ Ugetsu, recorded live in New York City at the legendary Birdland, crackles with energy. The year was 1963 and this incarnation of Blakey’s Messengers featured tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter as musical director. This was near the end of Shorter’s time with drummer/bandleader Blakey, before he reached even greater heights with Miles Davis. Listen to the supreme swing of Shorter’s opening “One By One,” which sets the tone for this Original Jazz Classics Remasters edition.
The title track bristles with the buzzing of trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s opening flurry. Hubbard is nothing short of dazzling on the extended track, which also features solos by pianist Cedar Walton and trombonist Curtis Fuller. Speaking of Fuller, his composition “Time Off” is one of the hardest-charging tunes here. Madly uptempo, the performance is driven by aggressive soloing by the horns. Blakey establishes a tough groove on Shorter’s “Ping-Pong,” and he continues to provide thunderous percussion throughout the lengthy track.
Dipping into the Great American Songbook just once, the Rodgers & Hart evergreen “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” is a solo spotlight for Shorter. His tenor playing is deeply inventive, with the band cutting out at the end for his spectacular conclusion. The original album closed with the sixth tune, “On the Ginza,” another Shorter composition. Blakey introduces the piece with the simple declaration, “On this tune we feature no one in particular.” Hubbard is the stand-out, though, soloing with piercing clarity. Blakey and bassist Reggie Workman keep a rather low profile throughout the album.
Four bonus tracks follow, three carried over from the previous reissue of Ugetsu and one that is new. The new addition is a cover of George Shearing’s “Conception,” in which the rhythm section steps forward in a way they do not on the proper album. Workman’s bass solo is a highlight, along with a supercharged drum solo from Blakey near the tune’s end.
Audience noise and brief spoken introductions retain the “live” atmosphere of the album. Ugetsu is an exciting album, dominated by the horns of Shorter, Hubbard, and Fuller. The remastered sound is certainly acceptable, though there are far superior sounding club recordings from this era. But given the superb track record of the Original Jazz Classics Remasters production team, it’s safe to say this is the best they could get these tapes to sound.