Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers ‘Soul Finger’ (Limelight/Universal) 3/5

This 1965 recording data is notable in in the long Jazz Messenger’s history for the pairing of two trumpeters who epitomised the band’s hard bop sound in the early-mid 1960s: Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that in the same year the pair had recorded in a live setting together for Blue Note on ‘Live at the Cookers’ and their playing is inspired on the studio date contained herein. More surprising is the inclusion of tenorist Lucky Thompson who had played with Blakey in the 1940s. Pianist John Hicks and bassist Victor Sproles complete the line up which does not feature trombonist Curtis Fuller as on the previous ‘’S Make It’ and ‘Indestrutible’ albums from 1964. By far the most immediate track is ‘Buh’s Bossa’, a long time favourite on dancefloors of the jazzdance scene with Blakey providing his own take on the then Brazilian drum beat. A Hubbard composition, ‘The Hub’, is in the classic Messenger’s groove with both trumpeter’s excelling. Hard bop is to the fore on ‘Freedom monday’, an underrated Blakey composition while blues-inflected hues predominate on the title track. While not quite on a par with the fiery playing and universal excellence of the Blue Note albums of the period, ‘Soul Finger’ fills in a useful gap in the Messengers chronology. Moreover, it was the second album for the label after ‘’S Make it’ which included Morgan and Hicks and Sproles, but omitted Thompson in favour of Sun Ra saxophonist John Gilmore. It is a pity these two line ups did not record more frequently together for there was undoubted empathy between them as amply demonstrated here. Messengers devotees will want this album for a key transitional period in the group’s history.

Tim Stenhouse