What do ‘Ping Pong’, ‘Roots and Herbs’, ‘The Back Sliders’, ‘United’, ‘Look at the Birdie’, and ‘Master Mind’ all have in common?

Hardcore Art Blakey fans will know that these are all track titles that belong to Roots and Herbs, a 1961-recorded Blue Note album featuring the great Bu with Lee Morgan (t), Wayne Shorter (ts), Bobby Timmons or Walter Davis Jr (p), and Jymie Merritt (b) recorded at the Rudy Van Gelder Studio on Englewood Cliffs in New Jersey over two spells, the first during late-February, the second in late-May. This album, clocking in at just over 42 minutes in its original LP form, didn’t get a release until 1970 although tracks cropped up in Japan on differently titled albums during the 60s.

This summer at Ronnie Scott’s the album is getting a new moment in the sun with a later member of Blakey’s long-running band the Jazz Messengers, tenorist Jean Toussaint, leading a tribute to the album on 6 June. He is powering a strong band with Laura Mvula drummer Troy Miller in the hot seat plus Lyte labelmate Jason Rebello, Lineage trumpeter Byron Wallen, bassist Daniel Casimir, and moving beyond the album for a little vocal input, the presence of the great UK jazz singer Cleveland Watkiss guesting.

It’s a return to Scott’s for Toussaint who a year ago launched his most recent album Tate Song on Frith Street the saxophonist’s first record as a leader since Live in Paris and London four years earlier. Toussaint made his name with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the 1980s appearing on such records as New York Scene (Concord) and Blue Night (Timeless), and as a leader Toussaint’s own albums include The Street Above the Undergound, which won the best album category at the first ever BBC Jazz Awards.

2015 marks the 25th anniversary of the death of Art Blakey but of course his musical legacy lives on and his Messengers sound a staple ingredient of much modern mainstream and hard bop-derived jazz made today.

Earlier this month this bootleg recording from a live show in Manchester, also in 1961, gained a regular release with a similar line-up to Roots and Herbs. Read a review of it below:

Manchester. May 1961. A quintet affair, trumpeter Lee Morgan and tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter in the front line, Bobby Timmons on piano and Jymie Merritt on double bass. Jazz Messengers supremo Blakey, of course, on drums. How classic is that?

Seven pieces in all beginning with​ Harold Arlen’s ‘It’s Only a Paper Moon’ and concluded with the longest piece of all, ‘Kozo’s Waltz,’ Timmons’ famous ‘Dat Dere’ here too as well as Benny Golson’s ‘Are You Real’, Dizzy’s ‘A Night in Tunisia,’ Wayne Shorter’s tune ‘The Summit’ and the Burke/Van Heusen standard ‘Like Someone in Love.’

Earlier in the year the same band had recorded in Japan with several of the tunes featured here appearing on two live albums drawn from their visit to Tokyo. Back in the States in February and March the band had then recorded what became Pisces and The Witch Doctor.

This recording from a bootleg source – its arbitrary sound quality particularly on the flatulent bass sound on ‘A Night in Tunisia’ contributing along with the cobbled together sleeve notes, “X” photo credits and all, to the three-star reissue rating – shares some material in common with a Paris live album recorded later in the month.

As a historical artefact it is of more interest imperfect though it is. At the beginning of ‘Dat Dere’ Blakey takes to the microphone to introduce the piece which contributes something music alone can’t provide, the warm speaking voice of a jazz master. Morgan and Shorter blend miraculously on Benny Golson’s ‘Are You Real’ Wayne taking a big solo while Blakey shows his power at the beginning of ‘A Night in Tunisia,’ a pulsating mini-epic of a feature setting up the fireworks to come, Morgan later displaying his showmanship. Blakey on ‘The Summit’ displays his huge stamina at speed the tune full of fizzing energy Shorter slightly detached in his soloing but an engrossing listen nonetheless.

With the theme of ‘Like Someone in Love’ taken up by Morgan after Timmons’ piano introduction, that gorgeous tone of the trumpeter’s, the little smears, grandeur of tone and candid manner so startling still at a distance of well over 50 years. And near the end ‘Kozo’s Walltz’ beginning with powerplay from Blakey, energy levels ramped up sky high, it makes you wonder and reflect on just how life changing for large portions of the audience hearing this band containing not just one but four icons of the music that night all those years ago might have been. As listeners at this distance we can only dream.

Stephen Graham

Tickets for the Roots and Herbs Blakey Project show at Ronnie Scott’s and more details about the evening can be found here

Jean Toussaint above, photo Benjamin Amure