Review of the Album: Roots and Herbs

Roots and Herbs by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers (Blue Note, BST 84347)

Just the Facts: Produced by (music great) Alfred Lion, Root and Herbs was recorded over three sessions in 1961; however, the album was not released until 1970. Art Blakey lead the group on drums with Lee Morgan on trumpet, Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Bobby Timmons and Walter Davis, Jr. on piano, and Jymie Merritt on acoustic bass. Wayne Shorter composed each of the six tunes on this album.

Initial Impressions: Not released until 1970 but recorded in 1961, this album "might as well have been a Wayne Shorter date--its six tunes were all his." (Michelle Mercer, Footprints: The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter). Michelle Mercer further states, "it was a collection of cockeyed, ear-catching charts like "Master Mind," "Ping Pong," and "Look at the Birdie . . . This small treasure foreshadowed the fortune of composition Wayne would create in the mid- and late sixties."

1) Ping Pong: This is one heck of an interesting little tune and the first of six exclusively Wayne Shorter compositions on this album. It opens with an entrancing and potentially hypnotic eight (8)-bar and beyond rhythm section vamp ostinato (doo-doo, dat-dat) before the horns join in with what sounds like a twenty (20)-bar repeated A section and an eight (8)-bar B section. Alas, after searching for this tune’s changes, I found the changes at MyRealBook.Com, which is a wonderful site. (BTW: It only took me listening to the head six times to figure out what was happening.)

Shorter’s solo comes first with the expected thickness and boldness of his voice; the now distinctive Wayne Shorter voice truly is present in 1961. Lee Morgan is next followed by Bobby Timmons on piano. As the tune concludes, Lee Morgan references Rhapsody in Blue. Ping Pong is followed by two twelve (12)-bar blues 2) Root and Herbs, and 3) The Back Sliders, which are both crafty themes.

A waltz that transitions into an "explosive Afro-Cuban-infused drum feature for Blakey," 4) United, comes next. Shorter's voice has such tremendous thickness and expressiveness; it is truly an eternal and immortalized expressiveness. Shorter is again followed by Lee Morgan, Walter Davis on piano, and then Art Blakey. 

One of the final two tunes on Roots and Herbs is 5) Look at the Birdie, which Michelle Mercer offers was, "Wayne's clever take on the Woody the Woodpecker theme." The album's last tune,6) Master Mind, is a medium uptempo swing. After two choruses each by Morgan, Shorter, and Timmons, Shorter and Morgan exchange some of the best fours (then twos, then ones) that I can recall. It's truly fabulous.

Summary: Buy this album, which is quite enough said!


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