Indeed from the 50s until his death in 1990, Blakey was the mentor to countless jazz stars who paid their dues in what critics dubbed "Blakey’s finishing school of jazz." Legends such as Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter and Branford and Wynton Marsalis were part of the Messengers at one time.
Thus, when the re-release is announced of a 1978 LP LIVE! at Slug’s, NYC, which memorializes Blakey's short-lived 1968 group, it’s a cause for celebration. This comparatively unsung Messenger ensemble never recorded in the studio and released only two live discs. On the record, Blakey is joined by Ronnie Matthews, piano; Bill Hardman, trumpet; Billy Harper, tenor sax; Julian Priester; trombone; and Lawrence Evans, bass.
Throughout the years, Blakey’s Messengers were famous for their dynamic hard bop sound. Two cuts feature torrid Slide Hampton compositions, "New World" and "Slide No. 2," each over 12 minutes long, providing ample space for stimulating improvisation by each player.
On the former track, Billy Harper’s explosive tenor onslaughts are challenged in the background by Hardman’s trumpet thrusts, with Priester’s throbbing trombone, Matthews’ punchy piano and Evans’ growling bass coming into the musical fray. Urging all on, of course, is commander Blakey’s propulsive drumming. (Take note of his thunderous press roles and clapping cow bells.) In "Slide No. 2" Evans on bass plays the catchy theme, leading up to Hardman’s fast-paced boppish turn on trumpet.
A soothing ballad, "Angel Eyes," calms things down. It features tenor man Harper staying with the melody until his tour-de-force cadenza at the end.
In "Theme," Blakey’s resounding drum solo, followed by Matthews’ rollicking piano interlude, introduce over-the-top controlled chaos from the crew. This popular intermission sign-off piece by Monk never seemed so cutting-edge. After 25 years, this combo still sounds new and exciting, as it was definitely out there exploring.