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My Top Picks for Record Store Day 2021

Fast approaching is the 2021 instalment of the annual celebration of the world’s independent record stores, Record Store Day, and so too – touch wood – is the beginning of the return to normality in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, at least here in the UK.

For many vinyl fans, Record Store Day represents the culmination of our love for music as a physical medium; it’s the one day on the calendar that our record-spending budgets gravitate around and that wakes us up at four in the morning on a day when we should be lying in.  For younger people like myself, or even those whose interest in records was awakened amidst the huge vinyl resurgence of the last decade, Record Store Day may very well be an event that we have participated in every year of our record-collecting lives so far.  As such, the disruption to the usual RSD proceedings that came last year caused by COVID-19 came as a big hit to many vinyl fans and, of course, the record shop owners themselves.  RSD2020 was postponed twice before the decision to divide the limited releases across three separate dates was announced, with participating record stores selling them online.  Hopefully, those who took part still felt the usual anticipation to support the record sellers that they now miss visiting so much and found it to be a small flash of excitement amidst the ennui of lockdown.

With all this being said, the suspense for 2021’s Record Store Day may be greater than any other to come before it for many people, as the whole experience of queueing up early in the morning to nab as many of the releases from your personal wishlist as possible will be making a comeback for those of us in the UK and other parts of the world where COVID restrictions are gradually being lifted.  Even if the RSD2021 offerings didn’t top those of some of the years to have come before it for you personally, the glorious return of the Record Store Day feeling that defines the occasion for many people will surely make this year’s event one to remember.  Thankfully, though, this Record Store Day boasts plenty of stand-out releases, so I will be running down my most anticipated picks from this year’s selection across a series of posts.

Chippin’ In by Art Blakey and His Jazz Messengers

A trailblazer of bebop drumming and a standout artist even amongst the hefty list of jazz greats to have released landmark albums on Blue Note Records, Art Blakey needs little introduction, but the album Chippin In’ might.  Many of the legendary jazz leaders to have contributed milestone albums to the bebop style have such expansive discographies that extend so far beyond the golden age of the genre, that just scratching the surface of what bebop has to offer can seem like a tall order.  With over 70 records to his name, it’s a given that some later Art Blakey albums may be undeservedly overlooked compared to his classics like Free for All, Mosaic and, of course, the momentous Moanin’.  As a result, seeing Chippin’ In on the list of RSD2021 releases instantly caught my attention as an interesting choice of Art Blakey album to reissue, and I was instantly impressed when I first listened to it as a Blakey fan who was unfamiliar with it previously.  Despite being recorded in February of 1990, just eight months before the drummer’s death, Chippin’ In isn’t an album that shows any signs of age, rather it is in fact permeated with a consistent feeling of vitality.  Not only are the drums a particularly physically demanding instrument, but Blakey is also known for his especially aggressive approach to jazz drumming, yet there’s no wear and tear evident in the 70-year-old’s skills on Chippin’ In.  Even across Kenji’s Walk, an eight-minute track comprised entirely of Blakey soloing, he continuously demonstrates commanding control over the dynamics in each one of his limbs individually, flexing his famous flair for polyrhythms and occasionally bursting out into some outrageously violent drum patterns for someone of his age.  Of course, Chippin’ In isn’t an album solely attributed to Art Blakey though, as it features the final arrangement of The Jazz Messengers, the collective that has supported Blakey ever since his debut as a band leader.  The Jazz Messengers that appears on Chippin In’ marks one of the group’s most populous permutations, with six musicians appearing alongside Blakey on each of these band cuts, making for a total of eight people contributing to this recording session, as trombone duties are shouldered by both Frank Lacy and Steve Davis across different tracks.  With the use of bass, piano, trumpet, two saxophones and even trombone – an instrument that has scarcely been used across The Jazz Messengers’ career – Chippin’ In makes great use of the group’s unusually indulgent arrangement.  The energy of pieces like Byrdflight and Kay Pea is capitalised on intensely, as the brass and saxophones play together in boisterous, triumphant unison, whilst the unique rhythmic phrasing that Blakey injects into the classic Duke Ellington number, Raincheck, is framed beautifully as the group embellishes the main melody, then comes together to send the tune off with all the might of a big band.  Indeed, opting for a septet arrangement pays off in dividends on Chippin’ In, with that extra helping of dynamic depth being a natural complement to Blakey’s own masterful control over the sound and volume of his drums.  The result of all this isn’t merely an album that holds its own within Blakey’s late discography thanks to strong performances, compositions and arrangements, but one that possesses a voice of its own within the drummer’s entire catalogue, and listening to it thoroughly since the announcement of the RSD2021 line-up has proven it a record well worthy of being highlighted with a special edition at Record Store Day.

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