Over the years, Blakey has had a rotating cast of musicians that made up The Jazz Messengers. On this album, his debut for Riverside records in 1962, the Messengers were a recent sextet. The previous year trombonist Curtis Fuller joined the horn section, which already included Freddie Hubbard on trumpet and Wayne Shorter on tenor sax. Joining Blakey in the rhythm section, the times he was contained to it, were Cedar Walton on piano and the band’s most recent member Reggie Workman on bass, who is the only member not given any solo time.
The album starts with a tune credited as “Caravan” by Tizol and Ellington, but that title is slightly misleading because it is much more than that. Blakey’s amazing power and skill are on display through four drum solos that are connected by the ensemble playing “Caravan.” The horn section is featured during the first half of the number.
Their sound blends well together as Hubbard and Shorter work the high notes while Fuller plays a counter-melody of low. They then alternate the lead, Hubbard to Shorter to Fuller, before Blakey takes control again. This is the album’s strongest track, however, those who aren’t a fan of percussion might find Blakey excessive and self-indulgent.
The remaining tracks on Caravan strongly feature the horn section. Shorter’s “Sweet ‘N’ Sour” opens with a great piece of playing by the ensemble before the horn section again takes turns leading the band, Shorter to Hubbard to Fuller. Walton even gets some time leading the rhythm section, but his playing contrasts poorly with the horns’ solo work. The ensemble returns to close the piece. (Take 4) is followed by the released track. Both tracks are very similar and they should have cut Walton’s solo.
Fuller’s trombone takes over the vocals on “(In The) Wee Small Hours (Of The Morning).” His playing wonderfully captures the song’s tone and mood. Walton delivers his best solo work on the album.
“This Is For Albert” is another Shorter number dedicated to jazz pianist Bud Powell. It’s a long ensemble piece that doesn’t captivate the listener as “Caravan” does. The horn solos are Shorter to Fuller to Hubbard then Walton closes out the number. They all sound lackluster compared to the rest of the album.
The album closes strong with two tracks, which are (Take 2) and the released version of the Hubbard composition “Thermo.” While (Take 2) is a good piece, the solos for everyone are better on the released take, especially Shorter who delivers his strongest performance on the album.
I enjoyed half the album, “Thermo,” “Caravan” and “(In The) Wee Small Hours (Of The Morning)” but found the other tracks to be ordinary. They weren’t terrible, but they were sub par compared to the performances of the other selections. I can’t recommend the entire album; however, in this age of digital downloads, you should sample the tracks and purchase the ones you enjoy because there are a few worth having.