Friday, February 8, 2019

Blue Mitchell - 1964 - The Thing To Do

Blue Mitchell
The Thing To Do

01. Fungii Mama
02. Mona's Mood
03. The Thing To Do
04. Step Lightly
05. Chick's Tune

Bass – Gene Taylor
Drums – Aloysius Foster
Piano – Chick Corea
Tenor Saxophone – Junior Cook
Trumpet – Blue Mitchell

Recorded on July 30, 1964 at Rudy Van Gelder's

Trumpeter Blue Mitchell had a sound in every way as individual as his label-mates Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan, and like them, tragically, he could misuse studio time recording uninspired bop and funk. The Thing To Do makes you wish Mitchell had been this focused and well accompanied more of the time.

Blessed with a lyrically brassy tone imbued with a shade of vulnerability perfect for ballads, Mitchell absolutely reveals a confidence and zest in this finely programmed set. A young Chick Corea does for Mitchell what Herbie Hancock did for Miles: create challenging rhythmic and harmonic gambits that inspired the trumpeter to soar. The album's hit was "Fungii Mama," a bit of sly calypso in the vein Sonny Rollins has transmuted so deftly, but the most memorable selection might be the hard driving "Step Lightly," a Joe Henderson tune saxman Junior Cook handles with great elan. The rhythm team of bassist Gene Taylor and Al Foster (mysteriously identified on the CD cover as "Aloysius Foster") is supple and thoughtful.

This album serves as a reminder of the deep musical communion Mitchell and Cook could create outside of their tenure in the Horace Silver group, and the fact that Mitchell's glowing legacy is worthy of serious reconsideration, in spite of his uneven back catalog.

1964. Recorded in changing times, with the Blue Note catalogue elsewhere reflecting the pull of more adventurous music – Grachan Moncur, Hancock’s Empyrean Island – Blue Mitchell offered a line of continuity for straight ahead bop inherited with the Horace Silver band. Recording prolifically in the early sixties, with bluesy soul jazz offerings, the most interesting contribution is that of the young Chick Corea, given his own title “Chicks Tune”. Polished performances, though with so much talent burgeoning on the jazz scene it must have been difficult to stand out. A good enjoyable outing nonetheless.

Blue Mitchell - 1962 - The Cup Bearers

Blue Mitchell
The Cup Bearers

01. Turquoise
02. Why Do I Love You
03. Dingbat Blues
04. Capers
05. Cup Bearers
06. How Deep Is The Ocean?
07. Tiger Lily

Bass – Gene Taylor
Drums – Roy Brooks
Piano – Cedar Walton
Tenor Saxophone – Junior Cook
Trumpet – Blue Mitchell

Recorded at Plaza Sound Studios, New York City; August 28 and 30, 1962.

From 1959-1964 Blue Mitchell played trumpet in what was arguably Horace Silver's greatest quintet. (At the very least, it was his best since the original Jazz Messengers.) This was also a very popular group, so they made numerous recordings for Blue Note and toured for months at a time, which left Mitchell and his bandmates little time to pursue potential solo projects. But in August 1962, Blue had some time to record "The Cup Bearers" for the Riverside label, for whom he had made some first rate albums in the late 50s -- "Big Six," "Out Of The Blue," and "Blue Soul" -- all of which I have previously reviewed. "Cup" breaks from the hard-bop tradition of these three titles, and establishes a more modern sound akin to, not surprisingly, Horace Silver's Quintet. This is only natural considering the band on this date is the Silver group -- Blue, Junior Cook on tenor sax, Gene Taylor on bass, and Roy Brooks on drums -- with Cedar Walton replacing Silver on piano. Oddly, the liner notes go to great lengths to distance "Cup Bearers" from Silver's Blue Note output from this period, but nearly four decades later, their similarities is "Cup's" greatest strength in my opinion. This album falls nicely between Silver's "Tokyo Blues" and "Silver's Serenade," and fans of those discs will be enjoy bearing the cup.

Blue Mitchell - 1962 - A Sure Thing

Blue Mitchell
A Sure Thing

01. West Coast Blues 5:41
02. I Can't Get Started With You 3:44
03. Blue On Blue 4:44
04. A Sure Thing 4:29
05. Hootie Blues 5:20
06. Hip To It 4:57
07. Gone With The Wind 5:57

Alto Saxophone, Flute – Jerome Richardson (tracks: A1 to B2)
Baritone Saxophone – Pat Patrick (tracks: B2)
Baritone Saxophone – Pepper Adams (tracks: A1)
Bass – Sam Jones
Drums – Albert "Tootie" Heath
French Horn – Julius Watkins (tracks: A1 to B2)
Piano – Wynton Kelly
Tenor Saxophone – Jimmy Heath
Trumpet – Blue Mitchell
Trumpet – Clark Terry (tracks: A1 to B2)

Recorded at Plaza Sound Studios, New York City; March 7, 8, and 28, 1962.

Trumpeter Blue Mitchell is well featured on A Sure Thing, with a nonet arranged by Jimmy Heath. The music is straight-ahead but, thanks to Heath's arrangements, sometimes unpredictable. Best is Mitchell's solo on "I Can't Get Started," "Hootie's Blues," and a quintet workout (with Heath, pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Sam Jones, and drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath) on "Gone with the Wind."
A hip session from Blue – one that points the way towards some of his later work on Blue Note, and which features a larger than usual group arranged by Jimmy Heath. As on some of Heath's other projects from the time, the groove is tight and soulful, but never so dominant as to overwhelm the soloists. Mitchell's the main player, of course – but the rest of the group features work by Heath, Pat Patrick, Jerome Richardson, and Wynton Kelly.

Blue Mitchell - 1961 - Smooth As The Wind

Blue Mitchell 
Smooth As The Wind

01. Smooth As The Wind 5:10
02. But Beautiful 3:35
03. The Best Things In Life Are Free 3:18
04. Peace 3:53
05. For Heaven's Sake 3:29
06. The Nearness Of You 3:19
07. A Blue Time 4:52
08. Strollin' 3:16
09. For All We Know 3:24
10. I'm A Fool To Want You 3:37

Bass – Tommy Williams
Drums – Philly Joe Jones (tracks: A1 to A3, B2, B4, B5)
Drums – Charlie Persip (tracks: A4 to B1, B3)
French Horn – Willie Ruff
Piano – Tommy Flanagan
Trombone – Britt Woodman (tracks: A4 to B1, B3)
Trombone – Jimmy Cleveland (tracks: A1 to A3, B2, B4, B5)
Trombone – Julian Priester (tracks: A4 to B1, B3)
Trombone – Urbie Green (tracks: A1 to A3, B2, B4, B5)
Trumpet – Bernie Glow
Trumpet – Blue Mitchell
Trumpet – Burt Collins
Trumpet – Clark Terry

Recorded at Plaza Sound Studios, New York City; December 27, 1960; March 29 and 30, 1961.

When these recordings were made in early 60s, trumpeter Blue Mitchell was already a mature artist: a thoughtful musician with an individual voice, who had made a name with Horace Silvers quintet from 1958 onwards. Smooth as the Wind was a true hallmark in his career.

Trumpeter Blue Mitchell is in excellent form on this very interesting session that has been reissued on CD. Mitchell is accompanied by a brass section, a rhythm section, and strings. The arrangements (seven by Tadd Dameron and three from Benny Golson) are generally quite stimulating, inspiring the trumpeter to come up with many fresh melodic solos. The repertoire includes two songs that Mitchell played regularly with the Horace Silver Quintet, a pair of superior Tadd Dameron tunes (including the title cut), and six standards. By varying tempos and moods, Dameron and Golson helped create one of the better soloist-with-strings jazz dates.

Blue Mitchell - 1960 - Blue's Moods

Blue Mitchell
Blue's Moods

01. I'll Close My Eyes 5:55
02. Avars 4:03
03. Scrapple From The Apple 3:57
04. Kinda Vague 6:15
05. Sir John 6:00
06. When I Fall In Love 5:38
07. Sweet Pumpkin 4:14
08. I Wish I Knew 4:23

Bass – Sam Jones
Drums – Roy Brooks
Piano – Wynton Kelly
Trumpet – Richard "Blue" Mitchell

Recorded at Plaza Sound Studios in New York City; August 24 and 25, 1960.

Following in the footsteps of fellow trumpeters, Fats Navarro, and Clifford Brown, Richard Allen Mitchell, most commonly known as “Blue,” made his mark as one of the young up-and-coming trumpet players as part of the Horace Silver Quintet, and particularly after it disbanded. Compared to trumpet greats, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, his tone would be considered on the lighter side of dynamic yet strong enough to allow him to lead his own band. Blue’s voice on the trumpet was reminiscent of the legendary Clifford Brown, who crafted his sound after Navarro. His lines were richly melodic, ala Brown’s, without Brown’s technical expertise or genius. To his credit, he was able to produce a warm an inviting sound that was sweet and relaxed in its delivery. His smooth presentation (his greatest attribute) was part of the reason why he initially didn’t receive the credit he deserved. The other part was that his contemporaries’ style was felt to be much more aggressive. 

Mitchell’s performances reached a new level after he signed with Riverside records as one of their front men. On one of his best-known recordings, Blue Soul, (the album that directly preceded Blue’s Moods), Mitchell established himself as an exceptional trumpet player, albeit in a three-horn ensemble. The frontline on that recording included Curtis Fuller on trombone and Jimmy Heath on tenor sax. Mitchell was definitely in good company but these performances were a prelude of some good things to come. 

Fresh on the heels of the success of Blue Soul, he carried over his excellent performances to Blue’s Moods, in a more intimate quartet setting. On Blue’s Moods, Mitchell recorded a number of songs that I’m sure you will enjoy. The title of the CD would have you to believe that this is all about the blues but it happens to be a captivating rendition of some classics like “I’ll Close My Eyes”, “When I Fall In Love” “Scrapple From The Apple”, and my personal favorite, “I Wish I Knew”. It was an opportunity for Blue to demonstrate that he could solo within in a wide range of moods and tempos. 

Mitchell had an excellent team of musicians to sit in with him on this session. Wynton Kelly on piano, Sam Jones on bass, and his bandmate from their earlier days with Horace Silver, Roy Brooks on drums. All three made up a strong supporting cast but Wynton had the unique ability to make just about everybody that he played with sound better. He was so admired by the legendary Ellis Marsalis that he named his second son after him. 

The first selection and again, my favorite, “I Wish I Knew,” seemed tailor-made for him. Mitchell demonstrated from the very beginning, that this first selection would set the tone for the rest of the CD. Describing his performances is actually like creating an oxymoron somewhat akin to “silent thunder” or the “velvet hammer.” His sound had a commanding presence but wasn’t forceful. His performance was a statement that this was going to be a signature session and it was just an appetizer for some of the smorgasbord of music to come. 

Track four, “Kinda Vague,” an original composition, is a nice mellow selection that features Wynton’s textured playing. He co-wrote this song with Mitchell so it didn’t come as a surprise that both men should share equally in the spotlights. Sam Jones set the tone for this selection with a slow, unobtrusive walking bass line. Mitchell’s contribution to this selection was comforting and peaceful. His solo performance was so moving that it was obvious that he was playing with a high level of confidence.

The other original piece on this CD, “Sir John,” is somewhat up-tempo but simple in its presentation. Here, Blue plays with excellent precision. He alternates between smooth, long movements and an occasional mild flare for the dramatic, but just when you think he might begin to ruin the mood, he succinctly brings you back with diplomatic charm. It is a fascinating piece of work that even the lesser knights should find enjoyable. 

On this finely crafted CD you will hear a variety of material. The selections include some familiar classics, a beautiful piece by the infamous Charlie Parker, and of course some original compositions. Blue’s performances were stellar enough that he was secure in his ability to perform without the help of other horn players on this recording. His partnering with Wynton Kelly made a truly remarkable performance even better. 

Blue’s Moods certainly qualifies as one of my favorites because it is an excellent recording and is the ideal CD to help accentuate an atmosphere of peace and tranquility. Listening to the material on this CD is a wonderful way to help you wind down while the lights are low. 

So the next time you’re looking for a jazz CD that will help you relax after a long hard day of work I really believe that a copy of Blue’s Moods is just the ticket. Blue Mitchell did a wonderful job of providing a sound that was silky smooth. His ability to produce a CD that allowed him to be expressive should appeal to your tastes in traditional “straight ahead” jazz. But, keep in mind that just because the word “Blue’s” is in the title, doesn’t mean that it mostly favors the blues. It’s just an excellent collection of Richard Allen Mitchell’s musical moods. Highly recommended!

Blue Mitchell Sextet - 1959 - Blue Soul

Blue Mitchell Sextet 
Blue Soul

01. Minor Vamp 3:39
02. The Head 4:24
03. The Way You Look Tonight 3:19
04. Park Avenue Petite 3:54
05. Top Shelf 4:02
06. Waverley Street 4:56
07. Blue Soul 4:07
08. Polka Dots And Moonbeams 5:46
09. Nica's Dream 6:31

Bass – Sam Jones
Drums – Philly Joe Jones
Piano – Wynton Kelly
Tenor Saxophone – Jimmy Heath (tracks: A1, A2, A5, B1, B3, B4)
Trombone – Curtis Fuller (tracks: A1, A2, A5, B1, B3, B4)
Trumpet – Richard "Blue" Mitchell

New York; September, 1959.

Trumpeter Blue Mitchell left his home in Miami for a short stint in New York City, headed back to Florida, and then to Los Angeles before his brief but vital career as a jazz trumpeter ended. This sojourn identified his sound, initially branded by the warmth of the Southeast, burnished by the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple, and polished by the West Coast cool school demeanor. In 1959, as Mitchell returned to Miami, he connected with Detroit trombonist Curtis Fuller and Philadelphia tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath to form one of the most potent three-horn front lines in jazz history. Few knew how good they were until after the fact, but this recording, the third album for Mitchell as a leader, has him and his mates in full flight. Drummer Philly Joe Jones has a lot to do with the solid booster rocket-like propulsion on this primarily hard bop date, and check out his calypso variations on the second chorus of the otherwise easy blues swing and ultra melodic "Waverley Street." Credit Mitchell's street smarts and highly developed melodic inventiveness as the focal point for this definitive session. In many ways, this is a parallel album to the Miles Davis classic Kind of Blue, with subtle undertones driven by fourth-gear swing. The set kicks off with the famous "Minor Vamp," of which Fuller's original take for the Savoy label has been remixed and layered, and is heard in the acid jazz dancehalls. It's a familiar sparse line, a two-note vamp tacked onto a lithe, perky melody that needs no critique -- it's simply great! More concisely rendered hard bop follows on "The Head," not complex by any means, but filled with plenty of soul. The hardest line crops up during "Top Shelf," featuring a memorable, cutting, precise solo by Heath. Fuller and Heath lay out so you can hear in full dimension the cozy and warm persona of Mitchell on the ballad "Park Avenue Petite," but especially on the bright, easy swinger "Blue Soul," which most accurately approaches Kind of Blue. In tribute to his then-boss, Horace Silver, "Nica's Dream" features Mitchell's muted trumpet over an underlying fresh bed of trombone and tenor sax. Even more so, Mitchell's deep blue horn shines on the standard "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," an organ of sheer beauty and one to be studied for those who need to learn that playing fewer notes more musically is an admirable quality. This is one of the most precious jazz recordings of a year that would soon give sway to the Blue Note sound, and is in many real and important ways as much of a prelude as any other statement. It's a must-have for all serious mainstream jazz fans.

All of the original songs on this album are good, but for me the highlights have to be the opener, "The Way You Look Tonight", "Nica's Dream" & the ballads "Park Avenue Petite" & "Polka Dots & Moonbeams"; both in which Mitchell plays the trumpet in the way I haven't heard from anyone else play it in a jazz ballad save Miles Davis.

Also of note is the other musicians present in this recording, most of who are well known in the jazz world- musicians such as Jimmy Heath, Curtis Fuller, Wynton Kelly, Philly Joe Jones, & Sam Jones (no relation with the two Jones) all have a mark in this recording & at times offer some great solos as well.

Blue Mitchell - 1958 - Out Of The Blue

Blue Mitchell 
Out Of The Blue

01. Blues On My Mind 9:05
02. It Could Happen To You 5:52
03. Boomerang 5:01
04. Sweet-Cakes 6:14
05. Missing You 5:40
06. When The Saints Go Marching In 7:00

Bass – Paul Chambers (tracks: A2, B2, B3)
Bass – Sam Jones (tracks: A1, A3, B1)
Drums – Art Blakey
Piano – Wynton Kelly
Tenor Saxophone – Benny Golson
Trumpet – Blue Mitchell

Recorded at Reeves Sound Studios, New York; January 5, 1959.

Blue Mitchell's "Out Of The Blue" is the second of three amazing albums that the trumpeter made for Riverside in the late 50s. (I have reviewed the other two, "Big Six" and "Blue Soul," and a compilation featuring material from all three sessions, "Blues On My Mind," for those interested.) However, if anything this is my least favorite of the three. The reason is that where "Big Six" and "Blue Soul" had polished, tight arrangements that were meticulously constructed, "Out Of The Blue" is more of a free-flowing jam session. But what a jam session it is (!) with Benny Golson on tenor sax, Wynton Kelly or Cedar Walton on piano, Paul Chambers or Sam Jones on bass, and the great Art Blakey on drums. The standout tunes are Golson's "Blues On My Mind," "Sweet-Cakes" (which while attributed to Mitchell reminds me of another jazz standard that I just can't put my finger on at this moment) and a great version of "When The Saints Go Marching In." The CD also includes the bonus track "Studio B" which was not on the original album. For anyone who knows Blue Mitchell from his work with Horace Silver, this will be an excellent introduction to his recordings as a leader.