It’s been a while since we covered a Jazz Messengers album around here, which is amazing considering how prolific they were. Free for All was recorded in 1964, with a lineup of Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Curtis Fuller on trombone, Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, Cedar Walton on piano, and Reggie Workman on bass, plus leader Art Blakey of course. That is a heavyweight sextet, and while nothing here is necessarily breaking any new ground in jazz, it’s all pretty damn good.
The title track, written by Shorter, is really a wonderful tune, one of the quintessential Jazz Messengers-style tracks. As the title suggests, it starts to feel like free jazz, or at least as close to free jazz as the ultra-hard bop Messengers were going to get. The highlight is Hubbard’s trumpet solo leading into Blakey’s drum solo:
The soulful “Hammer Head,” also written by Shorter, is the Jazz Messengers in their wheelhouse. Fuller’s solo stands out to me, although I am a huge fan of jazz trombone and it’s actually rarer to encounter than you’d think, so maybe that’s why I appreciate it here so much.
Freddie Hubbard wrote “The Core” as a dedication to the Chicago-based Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), one of the country’s largest civil rights organization. But the title works on two levels–as Hubbard says in the liner notes, “I think we got at some of the core of jazz–the basic feelings and rhythms that are at the foundation of the music.” It’s a toss up whether this or “Free for All” is the best tune on the album:
“Pensativa” is the album’s one cover. Originally written by bossa nova pianist and composer Clare Fischer in 1962, it was arranged for this group by Hubbard after he’d heard it performed live. It ends this otherwise pretty intense album on a light note:
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