Though reissued here on Savoy, when Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers’ Reflections of Buhania first came out in 1957, it was on Elektra, during a brief time when the label entered the jazz genre. As it was Elektra, the main session here was produced by Elektra’s head-honcho Jac Holzman, the guy who ran the boards on albums by everyone from The Doors and MC5 to Judy Collins and Harry Chapin. I had thought maybe there would be some strange production techniques or even some jazz faux pas here, but I heard none. I suppose it’s a credit to Holzman that the production here is as crisp and fine as on other monophonic bebop jazz albums from the era. And though it’s Art Blakey’s album, the drums don’t overpower the other players either from a production or performance standpoint. But you wouldn’t expect Blakey to do that anyway. The man seems to have been generous to a fault. He gives sax-man Jackie McLean and pianist Sam Dockery their place in the sun before stepping up himself. And even when Blakey does show off, he does his piece and gets out. To that end, most of the songs here are short by jazz standards, but probably not by bebop standards (The four bonus tracks that follow from a 1961 Bill Hardman session without Blakey are longer).
The big beautiful stretching point for Blakey here is on “Study in Rhythm,” which is pure drums and stereo. I’m no big fan of the long drum solo in jazz or most anywhere else, but Holzman and Blakey make this a real standout with the cowbell coming way up front and the bigger tom sounds popping in the back. It’s a total NYC sidewalk scene; stops and starts along with the streetlights, full of trademark Blakey buzzrolls and heavy polyrhythms. Also worth noting though is that it’s not just Blakey here; the other band members played various percussion on the track. The session as a whole is great with the usually easy-going sounds of trumpeter Bill Hardman pushed up a couple of notches by Blakey. In the 1961 session that follows Blakey gets way laid-back as on the “Harmlem Nocturne”-sounding track “Angel Eyes.”
The rest of the 1961 Bill Hardman tracks (a full 27 minutes) are fine, but sound much farther away from the frenetic bebop Blakey tracks than a mere four years. This is a very fine jazz album and great jazz drumming album, and that can be a rare combination. One note to the Savoy reissue folks though; leave those vintage album covers alone. The reissue cover is tacky, but the minis of the original covers in the back tray look great.