Blue Note Classic Does Art Blakey’s ‘Mosaic’
Hard bop staple returns in vivid all-analog stereo
Recorded in 1961 and released in 1962, Mosaic comes from an immensely prolific period of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers. Although the group’s lineup changed frequently, from mid-1961 through early 1964 it was unusually stable. The band was also one of Blakey’s very best: Wayne Shorter on tenor, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Curtis Fuller on trombone, Cedar Walton on piano, and Jymie Merritt on bass. The only change was when Reggie Workman replaced Merritt in 1962, but that was far from any sort of upheaval. This general iteration of the Jazz Messengers fell apart in 1964, when Lee Morgan replaced Hubbard and Shorter left months later to join Miles Davis.
This version of the Jazz Messengers reached exciting heights, though many of its members weren’t yet fully formed as composers or improvisers. As a result, Mosaic isn’t the most interesting or exciting Art Blakey/Jazz Messengers record, but there’s still plenty here for hard bop fans to enjoy. The opening title track, composed by Cedar Walton, is a fun little romp with excellent playing by Shorter and a solid Blakey solo in the middle. There's good horn interplay on Freddie Hubbard's swinging “Down Under” before the first side ends with Shorter's more mysterious “Children Of The Night.” Side two isn't as strong, but Curtis Fuller's “Arabia” and Hubbard's “Crisis” both have decent moments. Mosaic is far from throwaway material, but you can tell it was recorded expediently (the session yielded no alternate material). Honestly, I'm not sure why it has such high stature in Blakey's Blue Note catalog, as it's far from his most thunderous, muscular, or sophisticated (that would be 1964's fiery Free For All), though it's still a worthwhile effort with a strong lineup.
Mosaic isn’t the best Rudy Van Gelder Blue Note recording: the bass is recessed, the highs get a bit piercing, the drums sound flat, and overall depth is somewhat lacking. I have a mono (fold-down) original, which due to compression and inflated midbass sounds more “exciting.” It arguably fits the music better than the new Blue Note Classic stereo reissue, but the original has noticeable distortion right from the first note. The reissue, cut from the master tapes by Kevin Gray at Cohearent, has greater piano clarity and in the stereo mix, Blakey’s drums have an appealing (but not exactly natural) spread. It’s not perfect, and some might complain that it’s too bright, though it’s presumably more accurate to the tape. Whether or not you need this reissue depends on how much you like the album, but if you do, you can't go wrong. The absolute best Mosaic is probably the out-of-print Music Matters 45rpm 2LP cut at Cohearent and pressed at RTI, but it costs nearly 10 times as much as the BN Classic, and the latter’s 180g Optimal pressing is flat and perfectly quiet. The standard foldover jacket can't compete with the original's laminated tip-on or the Music Matters gatefold, but the photos still look good and for $27.99 MSRP, it's hard to complain.