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Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, January 2009

These two concert films, originally issued on VHS tapes back in the 1980s, last appeared on DVD in 2003. They are here presented primarily for fans of the late Art Blakey and/or trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who was the last and most famous Blakey trumpeter since Clifford Brown back in 1954.

The presence of Wynton on trumpet and his brother Branford on alto sax is not without interest. These were the years when Wynton’s jazz was at its freshest and most creative, taking the more conservative style of Brownie and his successor in the Jazz Messengers, Lee Morgan, to a new generation. His trumpet solos are shapely, intelligent, and well crafted; what they are not is very exciting. For that one must turn to brother Branford, one of the greatest alto saxists of our time. Though more conservative than such contemporaries as, say, Arthur Blythe, Branford’s playing is never less than surprising. He takes chances, adding twists and turns to his playing that complement Wynton’s greater conservatism. How I wish that in just one of these pieces the brothers might have played a chase chorus! Blakey, as usual, is outstanding. He was one of the greatest and most dynamic drummers who ever lived, and even relatively late in life could still whip up his band.

Vibraphonist Mike Mainieri is scarcely as well known as such giants of the instrument as Terry Gibbs, and for good reason. His playing is much more intimate, introspective, and—like Wynton Marsalis—less probing. But he was an excellent group leader, and this particular edition of his combo included the superb pianist Charles Fambrough and the dynamic bassist Edie Gomez, who has since skyrocketed to fame as one of the greatest bassists since Charles Mingus.

As one can assume from the fact that Mainieri’s group plays only three tunes in the same time frame that Blakey’s plays four, each piece is longer. Sadly, to me at least, much of the time in each piece is given over to the leader’s pleasant but not stirring vibes and less to Fambrough and Gomez, though when the pianist and bassist do solo they make a wonderful impression.

Visual and sound quality are, of course, period, and cannot compare to what has since transpired in the world of direct-disc DVDs. Recommended for fans of the Marsalis brothers, Gomez, Fambrough, and of course Blakey.

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