FREE FOR ALL captures Art Blakey and his Messengers at the height of their powers in the mid '60s. Since expanding to a sextet with the addition of Curtis Fuller on trombone, the group took on a larger-than-life sound with more complex arrangements encompassing the larger horn line, musical director Wayne Shorter's dramatic compositions and, of course, the powerful drumming of Blakey himself. Boisterous, passionate and driven, the '60s incarnation of the Jazz Messengers defined the hardbop movement more than any ensemble save those led by Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
The focus of this incarnation of the Messengers is on the compositions of saxophonist Wayne Shorter. His powerful title track opens the session with dark shadings and dense horn harmonies prodded by Blakey's rambunctious flurry of drums. Also by Shorter, the bluesy "Hammer Head" is a swaggering blowing session that leans on Blakey's shuffling backbeat for its fuel. "The Core" is trumpeter Freddie Hubbard's contribution and features furious ensemble shouts and passionate solos by Shorter, Hubbard, Fuller and pianist Cedar Walton. Finally, a beautiful arrangement of Clare Fischer's "Pensativa" is the Messengers' swinging take on the classic bossa nova.