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Ugetsu, a 1963 live set from the original Birdland, finds Art Blakey & His Jazz Messengers at the peak of their powers with one of their strongest lineups. The group primarily recorded sessions for Alfred Lion's Blue Note label, but this Riverside date is as strong as any of their previous outings. Having acquired the services of trombonist Curtis Fuller in 1961, the Messengers' front line was its most robust ever, with Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard consistently turning in some of their best performances. Rounding out the rhythm section with Blakey are the equally powerful Reggie Workman and Cedar Walton. The Messengers' set list finds the majority of tunes written by musical director Wayne Shorter, as well as a few choice numbers from Curtis Fuller and Cedar Walton's title cut. The group is spurred on by a very receptive crowd, tempos and solos are spirited for the most part, and Blakey seems exceptionally energetic despite not performing a single extended solo himself. His between-song banter is equally entertaining. Overall, the group is precise, expressive, and swinging hard, delivering its message from the grandest platform of the time.
New York, October 24, 1962