Tenor saxophonist Carlos Vega is a steeped-in-the-tradition fan of early bebop, displaying his passion for the genre with his nods to alto saxophonist Charlie Parker on Bird's Ticket (2016) and Bird's Up (2017), both on Origin Records. With Art Of The Messenger he shifts his focus to Art Blakey, the drummer who led the Jazz Messengers from 1955 onward for thirty-five years, helping define—in the early years—the hard bop Blue Note Records approach to jazz.
Vega and his very Messenger-esque/Charlie Parker-ish quintet—the leader's tenor sax and Victor Garcia's trumpet blowing hard in the front line—display a momentum similar the Art Blakey's, with a bit more flexibility in the soloing. The disc opens with the title tune, a modern day hard bop romp, followed up by the Latin- tinged "Bird's Word," proving that Vega had a hard time escaping the Charlie Parker influence, in the best way possible. The rhythm section—pianist Stu Mindeman, bassist Joshua Ramos and drummer Xavier Breaker—lays down a foundation of rumbling jubilation, Garcia's trumpet blows red hot; and Vegas's sax is cyclonic.
On a set of all originals from Vega's pen, "Ode To the Patient Observer" slows the torrid pace of the set's first two tunes, easing the sound into a relaxed reverie, while "Across The Ocean" celebrates the pure joy and exuberance of upbeat hard bop, with Vega smoldering hard out of a sharp-edged group interplay, followed by trumpeter Garcia, who spits out a wandering sentence of crisp one word syllables before blowing into a long, fluid lines approach.
Art Of the Messenger celebrates the hard bop sound and Art Blakey's influential Jazz Messengers with a vibrant twenty-first century pizzazz, employing a quintet that competes with the best of the legendary drummer/bandleader's bands.