There are times when Art is so much on fire that he almost drives you off the stand.”
Nat Hentoff, from the original liner notes
Irresistible, passionate, energetic, and intense could all be used to describe this album, which was recorded on 10 February 1964, the day after the Beatles made their debut on Ed Sullivan’s TV show and changed the musical landscape of America forever. This line-up of the Jazz Messengers was in its third year, but it was to be the last Blue Note album on which Freddie Hubbard appeared with the band – he had already recorded a number of solo albums for both Blue Note and impulse!
The eleven-minute title track, composed by the band’s tenor saxophonist, Wayne Shorter, is perfectly named; its driving hard-bop drives harder and further than anything else that the Jazz Messengers ever recorded. The opening section of ‘Free For All’ begins with Cedar Walton’s piano before all three brass players (Hubbard, Shorter and trombone player Curtis Fuller) play some of the most eloquent and elegant riffing in the band’s canon. As the title suggests, the composition is indeed free but never loses its structure.
Recorded in early 1964, the album came out in August 1965 and Billboard said of it – “The Messengers wail through four originals with an abandon typical of Blakey’s driving drumming and leadership…this jazz is very up to the moment”. All four tracks help make this one of the high points in the Jazz Messengers’ recording history. Hubbard’s composition, ‘The Core’ is a stand-out track, with all the soloists getting their turn, while being driven along by Blakey’s fiery drumming. Inspired by the work of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), ‘The Core’ was recorded just three months after John F. Kennedy was assassinated and during the same month that the Civil Rights Act was put before the US Senate.
Bossa nova was very much in fashion and ‘Pensativa’, as delicate as the rest of the record is muscular, is by pianist Clare Fischer. Cited by Herbie Hancock as one of his early influences, Fischer’s composition was brought to the session by Hubbard who had heard the pianist perform it. ‘Pensativa’ remained a Blakey favourite for many years and was played regularly at live gigs – on the recording Art can be heard yelling encouragement to the soloists. Free For All was recorded at a single session and the band also found time to cut a couple of tracks with R&B singer Willington Blakey, who was Art’s cousin, but neither of them were deemed worthy of release.