Saturday, February 9, 2019

Blue Mitchell - 1971 - Blue Mitchell

Blue Mitchell
Blue Mitchell

01. Soul Village 6:16
02. Blues For Thelma 7:03
03. Queen Bey 4:51
04. Are You Real 7:21
05. Mi Hermano 5:17

Bass – Larry Gales
Drums – Doug Sides
Piano – Walter Bishop, Jr.
Tenor Saxophone – Jimmy Forrest
Trumpet – Blue Mitchell

In 1970 Blue Mitchell was a trumpeter in the Ray Charles Orchestra. Nothwithstanding the fact that playing with the man who was respected among musicians in the sixties for reminding them of the roots of jazz was a valuable experience, it was a decision primarily driven by financial needs. Who could blame him? Jazz life was (is) a scuffle. In the early to mid-seventies Mitchell would continue commercial endeavors, working with the father of British blues, John Mayall, while simultaneously record for the Mainstream label. Blue Mitchell (in popular language also known as Soul Village but not catalogued as such) is his debut on Mainstream. It’s one of the better releases in Mainstream’s book, as Mitchell keeps up the energy of his career-high Riverside and Blue Note recordings of the early and mid-sixties, while adapting adequately to early seventies production methods.

The danceable quality of Blue Mitchell is immediately apparent. Three-fifth of the repertoire is reserved for tunes that are influenced by Carribean and West-Indian rhythm. Mi Hermano, Queen Bee and Benny Golson’s Are You Real are contagious songs with big-sounding two-horn themes, in which Mitchell displays his abundant style and round tone, employing a wide spectrum of notes. By concentrating on exotic styles, Mitchell emphasizes and stays true to the lineage of Carribean influence on jazz that took off through the innovations of the bebop clique of the fourties. Mitchell feels at home in these surroundings and had recorded these types of compositions before. Fungii Mama (from The Thing To Do) is a swinging and succesful case in point.
The order of soloing is the same on all five tunes: Mitchell first, then Forrest and Walter Bishop Jr. The styles of Mitchell and Forrest blend well with one another; they’re both very lively, yet Forrest’s style is rougher and drenched in swing, as Mitchell’s style is a fair mix of bop and blues. The entrance of veteran Jimmy Forrest in Mi Hermano, who, curiously, had to be pulled out of retirement for the job in Mitchell’s group, is a real kick in the gut. Soul Village and Blues For Thelma are dynamic hard bop compositions; tension-building figures in the former’s theme and a groovy, walking bass figure in the latter’s theme give these tunes an edge. They stimulate the soloists to express themselves eloquently.

Essentially, Blue Mitchell is a hard bop recording dressed up for a new age. The sound of drums, electric bass and, occasionally, electric piano, is early seventies, but thematically Blue Mitchell belongs to the era in which the trumpeter shone brightly on many a fine session. One must admit that the alternative title of Soul Village isn’t such a bad choice after all.

After recording for Blue Note as both a leader and noted sideman for seven years, Blue Mitchell recorded and released his self-titled debut for Bob Shad's Mainstream label in 1971. (The trumpeter had spent the last year of his BN contract not as a leader, but as a sideman on dates by Lou Donaldson, Grant Green, and Bobby Hutcherson). This date -- also known as Soul Village -- is somewhat of a retrenchment from the more R&B-infused sounds of 1969's underrated Collision in Black and Bantu Village (both produced by Monk Higgins), and featured his working live quintet with Jimmy Forrest on tenor, Walter Bishop, Jr. on piano and Fender Rhodes, bassist Larry Gales, and drummer Doug Sides. While the sound reflects more of his hard bop roots, it also engages readily with soul-jazz, too. As a whole, it offers evidence of a renewed creativity by Mitchell as composer -- he wrote two tunes here -- and soloist. The lone cover is a killer version of Benny Golson's "Are You Real." Opener "Soul Village," credited here to Mitchell but composed by Bishop, is colored by the pianist's darkly tinged Latin Rhodes vamp. It's funky, with breakbeats and an excellent late-'60s soul gospel melody. His and Forrest's solos are in the pocket, coming right out of hard bop. "Blues for Thelma" is straight hard bop with a wonderfully knotty head from the front line, a hard groove from Bishop, and a great loping solo by Mitchell. "Queen Bey" offers traces of both Afro-Cuban son and Nigerian highlife in its slippery, yet driving polyrhythmic attack, but is otherwise a blues. Closer "Mi Hermano" (also a Bishop original that is mis-credited on the sleeve) underscores the Afro-Latin tinge, with Bishop's Rhodes delivering some smoking montunos accented and answered by Sides. The front line statement played in unison resembles a chant, yet is expanded by Bishop's soulful, finger-popping solo, followed by excellent ones from Forrest and the trumpeter before the theme returns. This is a solid session, and one of the best in his Mainstream catalog.

Blue Mitchell - 1969 - Bantu Village

Blue Mitchell
Bantu Village

01. H.N.I.C. 5:17
02. Flat Backing 4:18
03. Na Ta Ka 4:08
04. Heads Down 5:20
05. Bantu Village 3:47
06. Blue Dashiki 4:51
07. Bush Girl 3:00

Alto Saxophone, Flute – Bill Green
Bass – Bob West (tracks: A2, B1, B3)
Bass – Wilton Felder (tracks: A1, A3, B2, B4)
Congas – Alan Estes (tracks: A2, B1, B3)
Congas – King Errisson (tracks: A1, A3, B2, B4)
Drums – John Guerin (tracks: A2, B1, B3)
Drums – Paul Humphrey (tracks: A1, A3, B2, B4)
Flute – Buddy Collette
Guitar – Al Vescovo
Guitar – Freddie Robinson
Percussion, Piano – Dee Ervin
Percussion, Piano – Monk Higgins
Tenor Saxophone – Plas Johnson
Trombone – Charles Loper
Trumpet – Blue Mitchell
Trumpet – Bobby Bryant

Recorded May 22 & 23, 1969

Miami trumpeter Richard 'Blue' Mitchell made his name as a sideman in the celebrated late 1950s bands of Cannonball Adderley and Horace Silver playing a blues-infused form of bebop known as hard bop. He cut some LPs under his own name for Orrin Keepnews' Riverside label at the end of that same decade and then inked a deal with Blue Note in 1963 (while still playing with Silver), where he started making albums with a pronounced soul-jazz flavour. Now reissued for the first time (and the inaugural release in a proposed series of Blue Note reissues from Soul Brother) is Mitchell's Blue Note swansong from 1969, 'Bantu Village.' Though an overlooked gem in Mitchell's Blue Note canon as far as jazz buffs are concerned, the Afro-centric-themed LP has not been ignored by groove robbers in the hip-hop community, who've enthusiastically sampled sections from album's funky number, 'Flat Backing' (its plunderers have included Akinyele featuring Kool G Rap - for the rather dubiously-titled track 'Break A Bitch Neck' – and fellow rappers Del and Lucien, the latter a Gallic rapper from Paris). But that's not the killer cut on this album – rather, at least to my ears, the oddly-titled 'Na Ta Ka' is the obvious standout (apparently it used to be popular on London's jazz dance scene of the 1980s). The opening cut, 'H.N.I.C.' is a good one too, sounding like it was inspired by The Isley Brothers' funky jam, 'It's Your Thing.' In terms of its personnel, 'Bantu Village' finds Mitchell surrounded by some first rate players, including Crusader Wilton Felder on bass, drummer Paul Humphrey and pianist Monk Higgins (who also penned much of the material). Mitchell is in fine fettle, trumpet-wise, blowing some bright, virile horn passages on the uptempo tracks and sounding more introspective, tender and lyrical on the down tempo material (such as the plaintive closer, 'Bush Girl'). 

One of the funkiest albums ever on Blue Note – a set that mixes the trumpet talents of Blue Mitchell with some killer backings from Monk Higgins – all in a groove that more gritty edges than the best funky soundtracks of the time! Higgins keeps the backings full, but always quite lean – fusing all elements together into a sharp, tight rhythm that steps along with some of the slight African touches you might guess from the title – a groove that's not really that authentic, but which resonates with some of the best inspirations that Hugh Masekela was bringing to American music at the time. And while the album might be an attempt to cash in on Masekela's groove, the feel here is really quite different overall – as tracks are nicely stretched out, with plenty of room for jazzy solo work – and a groove that's much harder overall, thanks to Higgins! 

Blue Mitchell - 1969 - Collision In Black

Blue Mitchell
Collision In Black

01. Collision In Black 3:02
02. Deeper In Black 3:28
03. Jo Ju Ja 3:20
04. Blue On Black 2:55
05. Swahilli Suite 2:58
06. Monkin' Around 3:38
07. Keep Your Nose Clean 3:25
08. I Ain't Jivin' 2:45
09. Digging In The Dirt 3:30
10. Who Dun It 2:56
11. Kick It 2:28
12. Keep Your Soul 2:48

Bass – Bob West
Drums – Paul Humphrey
Flute – Ernest Watts
Flute – Jim Horn
Guitar – Al Vescovo
Organ, Percussion – Dee Ervin
Percussion – John Cyr
Piano, Organ – Monk Higgins
Piano, Percussion – Miles Grayson
Tenor Saxophone – Anthony Ortego (tracks: A1, A6, B5, B6)
Tenor Saxophone – Monk Higgins (tracks: A1, A6, B5, B6)
Trombone – Dick Hyde
Trombone – Jack Remond
Trumpet – Blue Mitchell

This record is highly sought after and for good reason. Blue's blowing had blown minds but three weeks earlier with his heavyweight work on the recently departed Jimmy McGriff's The Worm, which was just about to hit the shelves as Mitchell went into the studio to record Collision In Black. Perhaps due to that experience he opted for an even funkier soul-jazz sound than he had toyed with on his previous release and one that he would continue to explore with great results until his premature death in 1979. This session comes between Heads Up! and Bantu Village in the Blue Note Catalogue, although both the latter and Collision were not included in the otherwise comprehensive package of his Blue Note era put out by Mosaic a couple years ago. After Bantu, he joined and toured with Ray Charles and then the John Mayall Band, recording solo LPs on Mainstream during his downtime.

In the 1960s Blue Mitchell began recording with Blue Note. There he often worked with Monk Higgins who did the arranging, and some of the song writing and production on Collision In Black. Higgins also played on the record along with Ernie Watts and Paul Humphrey. It was during this period and with this album that Mitchell began moving away from playing Bop to a more soulful and commercially aimed form of Jazz. On Collision In Black you hear some really early forms of Soul-Jazz such as the title track, Deeper In Black, Jo Ju Ja, I Ain’t Jivin, Digging In The Dirt, Who Dun It, Kick It and Keep Your Soul. Swahilli Suite, written by Higgins, is the best cut with its horn arrangement and solo by Mitchell. A very solid album for low-key Soul-Jazz.

Blue Mitchell - 1968 - Heads Up!

Blue Mitchell 
Heads Up!

01. Heads Up! Feet Down! 5:40
02. Togetherness 6:45
03. The Folks Who Live On The Hill 5:25
04. Good Humor Man 5:40
05. Len Sirrah 7:15
06. The People In Nassau 5:40

Bass – Gene Taylor
Drums – Al Foster
Piano – McCoy Tyner-
Saxophone [Alto], Flute – Jerry Dodgion
Saxophone [Baritone] – Pepper Adams
Saxophone [Tenor] – Junior Cook
Trombone – Julian Priester
Trumpet – Blue Mitchell
Trumpet – Burt Collins

A Blue Mitchell nonet session originaly recorded for Blue Note records in the late 1960's and included in his Blue Note box set. I don't recall a Jerry Dodgion, Pepper Adams or Julian Priester solo off hand, so it's Junior Cook soloing on 4 tracks with Blue being the only horn soloist with McCoy Tyner behind him on the ballads The Folks Who Live on the Hill and Len Sirrah.

Blue Mitchell - 1967 - Boss Horn

Blue Mitchell
Boss Horn

01. Millie
02. O Mama Enit
03. I Should Care
04. Rigor Mortez
05. Tones For Joan's Bones
06. Straight Up And Down

Alto Saxophone – Jerry Dodgion
Baritone Saxophone – Pepper Adams
Bass – Gene Taylor
Drums – Mickey Roker
Piano – Cedar Walton (tracks: A1 to B1)
Piano – Chick Corea (tracks: B2, B3)
Tenor Saxophone – Junior Cook
Trombone – Julian Priester
Trumpet – Blue Mitchell

Recorded on November 17, 1966.

The name of Blue Mitchell is likely to evoke a probable relation between the man and a style, among those who – like me – firstly heard his name thanks to his collaborations with John Mayall, and were thus inclined to believe that if the latter enlisted him, he surely was one of the bluesiest trumpeters in the market; 
But if midway through the opening “Willie” – a soulful Blues in the best tradition of “the Sidewinder”– the listener will be firmly convinced the trumpeter is really at home and comfortable on the style he bears the name of, the remaining material of this diversified set is an unequivocal portray of the Mitchell’s ability to adapt to a broad range of styles. 

With his crystal clear yet hot tone and revealing a self-assurance that makes him avoid ever over-playing, and carefully choose only meaningful notes, working over Duke Pearson clever and tailor-made arrangements, counting with the invaluably empathetic presence of long time partner on the Horace Silver group, tenor man Junior Cook and with the pianistic clout of Cedar Walton who functions as the 3rd corner of the octet’s front-driving triangle, Mitchell clearly deserves the epithet on the album’s title. 

In an album full of surprises, Mitchell soon proves at home on the rollicking Caribbean/Calypso ambient of his self-penned “O Mama Enit”, displays all the lyricism and emotion necessary to lead the mid-tempo swing of the standard “I Should Care”(and is duly followed by a brilliant Walton and Jerry Dodgion’s alto solo), and shows how to inject carburant on the spirited, Big-Band Soul-Jazz vibe of “Rigor Mortez”, which and contrary to what its name implies is driven by the finger-snapping relentless impetus of Walton and Gene Taylor /Mickey Roker’s  bass/drums engine, and where the pianist answers to Mitchell mix of passion and lucidity with an incendiary mix of imagination and rhythm; 

But suddenly, and as the feeling that a circle has been closed sets in, a drastic change occurs with an unexpected change in ambience and style, the change that eventually makes this such a remarkable album: a young Chick Corea– the pre-solo artist with no recording experience but participations in a pair of Mitchell previous albums –sits behind the piano, and brings in two of his pieces which are like a preview of the amazing compositional capabilities he would display in the future; introduced by the ethereal flute of Dodgion, soon joined by the warm trumpet sound and Corea harp-like piano arpeggios, “Tones for Joan’s Bones”  breathes with a breathtaking beauty, alternating between cyclic swells and chopped off swing, with agile piano  ballets occasionally touched by the gentle breeze of the horns and the trumpet drawing gilded filigrees against their velvety cushion; 

The spiraling and swift theme of “Straight up and Down” morphs into an energetic and asymmetrical post-bop groove with tension building ‘ritardandos’, with the horns reinvigorating the soloists at every chorus turnaround, Corea launching a searing solo, Mitchell displaying an Hubbard like authority and definition, Cook penetrating and tumultuous and Pepper Adams capable of provoking seismic waves with his baritone honks and runs. 

Without ever stepping out front, but nevertheless adding the tonal shade without which the horn ensemble would have not been complete, is the trombone of Julian Priester.

A wonderful album by Blue Mitchell – one that features some larger arrangements by Duke Pearson, and Blue's soulful trumpet soloing over the top! The use of Pearson is a great addition to the set – as it really sets Mitchell free to concentrate on the best shades, colors, and tones in his solos – allowing him to work in a sweeter, lyrical vein that we really like a lot! The format works surprisingly well for Blue, who could always be a great player, but sometimes faltered as a leader – which is why Pearson's guidance really seems to give the session new life.

Blue Mitchell - 1966 - Bring It Home To Me

Blue Mitchell
Bring It Home To Me

01. Bring It Home To Me 8:12
02. Blues 3 For 1 6:00
03. Port Rico Rock 6:30
04. Gingerbread Boy 6:35
05. Portrait Of Jenny 5:35
06. Blue's Theme 5:15

Bass – Gene Taylor
Drums – Billy Higgins
Piano – Harold Mabern Jr.
Tenor Saxophone – Junior Cook
Trumpet – Blue Mitchell

Recorded on January 6, 1966.

A 1966 recording that concluded an exceptional run of creative music by this post hard-bop quintet. As Michael Cuscuna succinctly explains about this Blue Note 75th Anniversary Edition . . . "When Horace Silver disbanded his longstanding quintet in early 1964, Blue Mitchell wasted no time in forming a new quintet with fellow bandmates Junior Cook (tenor sax) and Gene Taylor (bass). The chemistry that they had developed after six years with Horace Silver was uncanny. Blue Note signed the group which was completed by two relative unknowns: Chick Corea (piano) and Al Foster (drums)."

Chick Corea and Al Foster appeared on the first two albums: The Thing To Do and Down With It (released 1964 & 1965 respectively) but were replaced for this final quintet session by Harold Mabern and Billy Higgins. These details are worth getting into as this horn partnership between Mitchell and Cook has turned out to be one of the most enduring in all of jazz history. As leader, Blue Mitchell went around to certain musicians and solicited compositions from them specifically for his band. Jimmy Heath came forward with several gems as did trombonist Tom McIntosh whose Port Rico Rock captures beautifully the halcyon, celebratory spirit of those times (as do, in fact, all three albums). Typical of the ingredients at play are carefully constructed tunes littered with pungent rhythms, rich harmonies, inspired melody and a kind of raw eloquence brought about through the interplay of the horns. The spontaneity of the soloing is another trademark of this fine group and it's not difficult to hear the influence of Junior Cook's xphrasing on young giants of the time like Joe Henderson.

So Bring It Home To Me offers more unrecognised glory from the vaults and rounds out nicely the work this group delivered in the mid-sixties before Blue Mitchell moved onto larger ensembles. As a big fan of the 1950s & `60s hard bop quintet format with usually the Bb twins front and centre (tenor sax & trumpet), I can highly recommend these recordings, or, as the legendary tenor saxophonist Harold Land once said about this format, which he contributed greatly towards. . . "Five is bliss".

Genius work from trumpeter Blue Mitchell – one of his most solid sides as a leader from the 60s, and a well-deserved treasure in the Blue Note catalog! The album's quite different than the straight soul jazz of Blue's early days on Riverside – or the more arranged dates of the late 60s – and it features him moving in a soulful, lyrical, modal style – quite similar to Horace Silver in conception, but with a fresh execution that's mighty nice – and which marks Mitchell as one of the fresher trumpet voices of his generation! The whole group's great, too – and the lineup includes Junior Cook on tenor, Blue's old bandmate from Horace Silver's group – plus Harold Mabern on piano, who really helps shape the sound of the record

On thirty three albums recorded as a leader, "Bring it home to me" in 1966 is the thirteenth. This is not only an excellent album but also the artistic peak of his discography. The album is mixing modal harmonies, lyrical moments and groovy and even funky rythms. This album is very rare on LP format and very uneasy to find with an analog restitution of the sound. Trumpetist Blue Michell is here joined by Junior Cook on tenor, Harold Mabern on piano, Gene Taylor on bass and the geat Billy Higgins on drums. The artistic direction is strong, the aesthetic is powerful.

The Blue Mitchell Quintet - 1965 - Down With It!

The Blue Mitchell Quintet
Down With It!

01. Hi-Heel Sneakers 8:21
02. Perception 5:39
03. Alone, Alone And Alone 7:43
04. March On Selma 6:14
05. One Shirt 7:27
06. Samba De Stacy 6:00

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

Recorded on July 14, 1965.

Consistency is the name of Mitchell's game. His tone is focused and relaxed, and beautifully rounded in all registers. His melodic lyricism and fleet-fingered fluidity are second to none. After spending over five years in pianist Horace Silver's Quintet, Mitchell and his frontline mate, tenor saxophonist Junior Cook, matriculated in 1964 to form their own group.

Following its classic The Thing to Do (Blue Note, 1964), the Mitchell Quintet re-emerged in 1965 with the equally exciting Down With It!. Mitchell and company waste no time getting started, jumping head first into an R&B version of "Hi-Heel Sneakers. In the mid 1960s, too many commercially driven, artistically void throwaways were recorded as Blue Note searched for their next "Sidewinder -esque jukebox smash. In the wrong hands, "Hi-Heel Sneakers could have easily fallen into this trap, yet Mitchell's group is both groovy and sophisticated. Pushed by Al Foster's incessantly hard-driving ride cymbal, the energy level is high and there is inspired blowing all around. Mitchell displays his command of the blues in short motivic statements that get seriously funky.

"Perception, the first of his two original compositions, is a Latin-tinged medium-tempo piece that is perfectly suitable for Mitchell's flowing lyricism. Though the difficult harmonic motion requires heavy use of chromatics, Mitchell's playing remains unforced and accessible. Pianist Chick Corea (at the time only twenty-four years-old) also shines, spiraling through the descending chord sequence.

Mitchell was arguably the most sensitive trumpet balladeer on the 1960s Blue Note roster, and on "Alone, Alone and Alone his subtle, pensive approach is gracefully on display. Cook shows his gentler side as well, even while dissecting the harmony with probing arpeggios.

"March on Selma is a Mitchell-composed soulful blues shuffle that sounds right out of the Horace Silver songbook, complete with riffed backgrounds and a second theme preceding the final melody choruses. Everyone digs in on "One Shirt, a heavy swinging minor piece that features some of the album's most intense soloing, especially by Cook and drummer Al Foster. "Samba de Stacy is a fitting conclusion to a most satisfying album; Mitchell plays his strongest solo of the date over some tasteful comping from Corea.

Definitely worth repeated listenings, Down With It! captures the underappreciated Blue Mitchell during what was the most productive stage of his career. It is a fantastic example of this unheralded master and one of the tightest working bands of the 1960s.

Blue Note vinyl, man, you can't go wrong! One look at that awesome cover and the liner notes, and, hey, you are transported back to the 1960s, man. And there's no better place to land than some little dark New York City jazz dive with a beer in your hand and this cool jazz playing on stage, and by cool jazz I refer not to the "birth of the cool" kind of jazz genre, but this cool and soulful laidback jazz with the tight compositions and the meaningful improvisations that never get old. Ah, take me back, take me back!