Sunday, February 17, 2019

Harold Land - 1972 - Damisi

Harold Land

01. Step Right Up To The Bottom 3:38
02. In The Back, In The Corner, In The Dark 5:42
03. Pakistan 7:57
04. Chocolate Mess 7:26
05. Damisi 9:10

Bass – Buster Williams
Drums – Ndugu (Leon Chancler)
Electric Piano, Piano – Bill Henderson
Flugelhorn, Trumpet – Oscar Brashear
Oboe, Tenor Saxophone – Harold Land

Despite Leonard Feather's raves in the liner note of this CD reissue (which adds two additional selections to the original five-song LP), the music on this post-bop set by tenor saxophonist Harold Land is good but not great. The original five songs (four Land originals plus one by drummer Ndugu) have some dated electronics by keyboardist Bill Henderson and electric bassist Buster Williams (who does play his customary acoustic on some numbers) but also some fiery trumpeter from Oscar Brashear. None of the five originals are all that memorable, but there are some cooking moments, and Land takes a rare turn on oboe during "Pakistan." A similar group (with vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson in Brashear's place) performs the two extra tracks. The modal music, which clearly shows the influences of early fusion and funk, is interesting but very much of its period.

Harold Land at his most spiritual – recording solo after a set of great albums with Bobby Hutcherson as a partner – but still very much in the same sort of unbridled energy! The tracks are soaring and open – and have Land's tenor really sounding nice and raw – amidst a lineup that includes Oscar Brashear on trumpet, Bill Henderson on piano, Buster Williams on bass, and Ndugu Chancler on drums and percussion! Henderson picks up Fender Rhodes at points – especially on the great funky cut "In The Back In The Corner In The Dark", which is one of the best-remembered tracks on the set. And Land also plays a bit of oboe on the cut "Pakistan", almost in a Yusef Lateef sort of style.

Harold Land - 1971 - Choma (Burn)

Harold Land
Choma (Burn)

01. Choma (Burn) 9:57
02. Our Home 5:51
03. Black Cactus 10:01
04. Up And Down 10:49

Harold Land- Tenor Sax
N'Dugu- Drums
Bill Henderson- Piano & Electric Piano
Bobby Hutcherson- Vibes and Marimba
Harold Land, Jr.- Piano & Electric Piano
Woody Theus- Drums
Reggie Johnson- Bass

Not quite fusion not quite new thing not quite bop - just a hard hitting piece of jazz from Harold Land at the start of the 70s.His son is featured with Bill Henderson on both electric and acoustic piano and Bobby Hutcherson is deep in the mix along with pile driving drumming by Woody Theus and Ndugu especially on Black Caucus.This is uncompromising music from Land and his group.

Musically, Harold Land was a late developer. Growing up in Houston, Harold never showed any interest in learning to play an instrument. Then in 1944, when he was sixteen, Harold heard Coleman Hawkins recording of Body and Soul. This was a life-changing experience. After this, Harold decided to learn how to play the tenor saxophone. Five years later, Harold Land made his professional debut on Savoy Records.

This was the start of a career that spanned six decades. During his career, Harold Land worked with the great and good of jazz. This included everyone from Wes Montgomery, Bobby Hutcherson, Clifford Brown, Max Roach, Ella Fitzgerald, Bill Evans, Chico Hamilton, Donald Byrd and Curtis Counce. Anyone looking for a top tenor saxophonist had Harold Land’s phone number. However, there was more to Harold Land than collaborator and sideman. He also enjoyed a successful solo career.

During his solo career, Harold Land only released a series of groundbreaking solo albums. This included Choma (Burn), which was released in 1971, on the Mainstream label. It showcased Harold Land’s legendary acoustic combo. They made their name in the late-sixties. By 1971, when Choma (Burn) was released, Harold Land’s combo were at the peak of their powers. That’s apparent on Choma (Burn), which was recently rereleased by Boplicity, a subsidiary of Ace Records. However, before I tell you about Choma (Burn), I’ll tell you about Harold’s career.

Harold Land was born in Houston, in December 1928. When he was five, Harold’s family moved to San Diego. That’s where Harold grew up and went to school. It’s also where Harold first heard Coleman Hawkins recording of Body and Soul in 1944. This was a life-changing experience. 

After this, Harold decided to learn how to play the tenor saxophone. Harold had left it late to learn the tenor saxophone. However, he dedicated himself to mastering the tenor saxophone. Remarkably, five years later, in 1949, Harold made his recording debut.

This was for a session for Savoy Records. For the next five years, Harold Land spent time doing what amounted to a musical apprenticeship. He played gigs and recording sessions whenever he could. All the time, he was honing his sound and style. By 1954, Harold was ready to move to Los Angeles.

Now based in L.A, Harold struggled for work. Then his luck changed. Clifford Brown asked Harold to join a band he was forming with drummer Max Roach. This was the break he needed. Between 1954 and 1955, Harold played on five albums featuring Clifford Brown and Max Roach. They were the 1954 live album Jam Session. Late in 1954, Harold played on Brown and Roach Incorporated and Daahoud. Then in 1955, Harold played on Study In Brown. This was his swan-song for Clifford Brown and Max Roach’s band. After this, Harold joined Curtis Counce’s band.

Harold’s debut as a member of Curtis Counce’s band was 1956s You Get More Bounce With Curtis Counce. Landslide followed in 1956, with Sonority following in 1957. A year later, Exploring The Future was released on Dooto in 1958. Harold’s last album was 1960s Carl’s Blues. Away from Curtis Counce’s band, Harold was in demand as a session player.

This included working with Elmo Hope on the 1957 album The Elmo Hope Quintet featuring Harold Land. Then in 1958, Harold played on Hampton Hawkes’ album For Real. However, by then, Harold’s solo career had began. 

Grooveyard was Harold’s debut album. It was released in 1958. His sophomore album Harold In The Land Of Jazz, released later in 1958. Then in 1959, Harold released the first in a series of collaborations.

This was The Fox. Released in 1959, it featured Elmo Hope, DuPree Bolton, Herbie Lewis and Frank Butler. The Fox was an album of hard bop which was released to critical acclaim. With every release, Harold’s reputation was growing.

As a new decade dawned, Harold Land released two albums. West Coast Blues and Eastward Ho! Harorld Land in New York were released in 1960. Both albums built on the three albums Harold had released during the late-fifties. As a result, Harold Land  was seen as one of jazz’s up-and-coming artists.

1961 saw Harold asked to collaborate with Red Mitchell, for an album that would be released on Atlantic Records. For Harold, this was the opportunity to be heard by a wider audience. So he agreed to the collaboration, and Hear Ye! Harold Land Quintet with Red Mitchell was released in 1961. Not long after  Hear Ye! Harold Land Quintet with Red Mitchell was released to widespread critical acclaim, Harold was asked to join Gerald Wilson’s Orchestra.

Harold jumped at the opportunity. Figuring he wouldn’t be asked twice, he joined Gerald Wilson’s Orchestra in 1961. He spent the next six years touring and recording with Gerald Wilson’s Orchestra. Then in 1967, Harold left Gerald Wilson’s Orchestra.

That was when Harold met Bobby Hutcherson. Harold was thirteen years Bobby’s senior. Bobby was a rising star. He was seen as one of a small coterie of musicians who were the future of jazz. This included Jackie McLean, Eric Dolphy, Tony Williams, Graham Moncur III. These musicians were innovators, who were determined to push jazz in a new direction. Harold would play on all of Bobby’s albums for Blue Note. Before that, Harold and Bobby collaborated on an album for Cadet, a subsidiary of Chess Records. The Peace-Maker was released in 1967, and showcased the Hutcherson-Land partnership. This wouldn’t be that last time this partnership was heard.

It was heard on Bobby Hutcherson’s 1968 album Total Eclipse. Harold played tenor saxophone on what was hailed an inventive album. The following year, Harold was signed to Blue Note Records. Harold released Take Aim in 1969. It’s come to be regarded as a Blue Note classic. On Take Aim, Bobby Hutcherson was one of Harold’s band. Harold returned the favor on the two albums Bobby Bobby released in 1969, Blow Up and Now! That year, Harold also played on Ella Fitzgerald’s album Things Ain’t What They Used to Be. Harold Land was rubbing shoulders with the great and good of jazz.

That continued into the seventies. Harold played on Bobby Hutcherson’s next two albums. San Francisco was released in 1970 and Head On in 1971. Donald Byrd also released Ethiopian Knights in 1971. Harold and Bobby were part of a band featuring some of the best jazz musicians. This included Joe Sample and Wilson Felder. Harold Land was, it seemed, the go-to-guy for anyone looking for a tenor saxophonist. This would be the case for much of the seventies. 

During this period, Harold Land was splitting his time between session work and his solo career. He’d signed Bob Shad’s Mainstream label and released A New Shade of Blue in 1971. Later in 1971, Harold released the followup to A New Shade of Blue, which was Choma (Burn). 

Choma (Burn) features just four lengthy tracks. Three of them, Choma (Burn), Black Caucus and Up and Down were written by Harold. Bill Henderson wrote Our Home. These four tracks were recorded by a band featuring some top jazz musicians.

For the recording of Choma (Burn), the rhythm section included drummers Leon Ndugu Chancler and Woody Theus and bassist Reggie Johnson. Bill Henderson played piano, and Bobby Hutcherson vibes and marimba. Harold Land played piano and tenor saxophone. Producing Choma (Burn), was Bob Shad, who owned the Mainstream label. Choma (Burn) was released later in 1971.

On the release of Choma (Burn) in 1971, the album wasn’t a commercial success. Despite its undoubted quality, Choma (Burn) failed to chart. Choma (Burn) seemed to pass both critics and music lovers by. Considering Choma (Burn) is one of the finest albums Harold Land released since the late-fifties, the album deserved a better fate. I’ll now tell you why.

Opening Choma (Burn) is the title-track. It has a melancholy, understated sound. This comes courtesy of Harold’s flute and Bobby’s vibes. After that, Reggie Johnson’s bass powers the arrangement along. Thunderous drums, stabs of piano, franatic flute and marimba combine. The arrangement charges along, powered by the rhythm section. Everyone else is swept along. By then, the track is heading in the direction of free jazz.  Each of the band enjoy their moment in the sun, when the solos arrive. Bill Henderson unleashes a spellbinding solo. He’s matched every step of the way by the drums.  It’s as if they’re trying to outdo each other. They drive each other to greater heights, combining drama with power to create a captivating track.

Our Home has a much more thoughtful sound. That’s down to Harold’s tenor saxophone. It takes centre-stage. The rhythm section provide the heartbeat, while Bill Henderson’s piano matches Harold every step of the way. He stabs at his piano while Harold unleashes a blistering, rasping solo. It’s a combination of power and control. Meanwhile, the rest of the band lock into the tightest of grooves. Seamlessly, they fuse funk and jazz. Importantly, they leave space, allowing the arrangement to breath. Later, Bill Henderson’s piano ensures things get funky, while Bobby’s vibes add a contrast to the drama of the rhythm section. The result is an innovative fusion which hinted at the direction jazz was heading during the seventies.

Harold unleashes a blistering tenor saxophone solo on the fantastically funky Black Caucus. Drawing inspiration from Harold, the rest of the band provide a funky, cinematic backdrop. Drums try to match Harold, as he unleashes a spellbinding solo. It’s a tantalising taste of what Harold Land was capable of. He blows his saxophone as if his very life depends upon it. The rest of the band raise their game. Thunderous drums, a funky bass and Bobby Hutcherson’s vibes combines with Bill Henderson’s electric piano. It’s as if they’re determined to match Harold’s virtuoso performance. They don’t let him down on this genre-hopping track. Sometimes, the track heads in the direction of free jazz. Other times, it veers between funk and jazz. It veers between cinematic, dramatic and joyous, and is best described as a lost jazz Magnus Opus.

A lone sultry sounding tenor saxophone Up and Down closes Choma (Burn). It’s soon joined by a melancholy electric piano. Then, before long, it’s all change. The drums threaten to drive the arrangement along. They’re only teasing. Instead, the bass powers the arrangement along. Joining in the fun are the drums. They help propel the swinging arrangement along. Despite that, it’s Harold’s growling saxophone steals the show. He unleashes another spellbinding solo. Hardly pausing for breath, his saxophone soars above the arrangement. Then when he takes a break, the rest of the band get their chance to shine. This includes Bill Henderson on electric piano and Bobby Hutcherson on vibes. They try to match the quality of Harold’s solos. So, do the rhythm section. However, it’s close but no cigar. Harold steals the show. Later on, the arrangement takes on an understated, slinky late-night sound, before everyone kicks loose one more time, ensuring Choma (Burn) closes on a high.

When Harold Land recorded Choma (Burn), it was twenty-two years since he made his recording debut. That was in 1949, for Savoy. Since then, Harold had constantly sought to reinvent his music and stay relevant. Harold had watched as jazz constantly evolved.  

When Harold Land’s career began, the swing era was all but over. Bebop was about to become the most popular musical genre. Then it was all change. The West Coast sound became where it was at. Suddenly, everyone wanted to go to the Cool School. It surpassed bebop and hard bop in popularity. Harold Land survived all this and more. His career started in 1949 and he made his name in the second half of the fifties. By 1961, he’d established a reputation as a pioneering musician. That’s why he was asked to join Gerald Wilson’s Orchestra. Then when he left Gerald Wilson’s Orchestra in 1967, he befriended Bobby Hutcherson. 

Bobby and Harold become good friends and enjoyed a success. For the next few years, they played on each other’s albums. They also played on other people’s albums. This includes Donald Byrd’s 1971 album Ethiopian Nights. However, by 1971, their partnership was about to end. Choma (Burn) was the last album they recorded together. They certainly went out on a high.

Although Choma (Burn) features just four tracks, they ooze quality. Harold Land and his all-star band burn their way through a quartet of tracks. They pull out the stops, combining elements of free jazz, funk, fusion and jazz. The music on Choma (Burn) is innovative and inventive. It also hints at the direction music was about to take. As the seventies unfolded, fusion grew in popularity. Jazz and funk melted into one. This would provide the soundtrack to part of the seventies. Sadly, Harold Land wasn’t one of the artists doing this. After Choma (Burn), which was recently rereleased by Boplicity, a subsidiary of Ace Records, Harold and Bobby Hutcherson went their separate ways. He only released one more album for Mainstream, which maybe, was the wrong label for Harold?

If Harold Land had been signed to a major label, his music might have been heard by a wider audience?  Who knows what heights Harold Land might have reached? Maybe, Harold Land would’ve enjoyed the critical acclaim and commercial success his music deserved. Sadly, that never happened. Instead, Harold only released a few more albums. His last great album was Choma (Burn), which features a fusion of groundbreaking, innovative music from one of the most underrated jazz musicians of his generation, Harold Land.

Harold Land - 1971 - A New Shade Of Blue

Harold Land 
A New Shade Of Blue

01. A New Shade Of Blue 9:48
02. Mtume 10:12
03. Ode To Angela 6:12
04. De-Liberation 8:39
05. Short Subject 8:47

CD version includes a bonus track, a beautiful eight-minute outtake "Dark Mood" briefly issued in 1974 on a Mainstream compilation.

Bass – Buster Williams
Congas – Mtume
Drums – Billy Hart
Piano, Electric Piano – Bill Henderson
Tenor Saxophone – Harold Land
Vibraphone – Bobby Hutcherson

Harold Land's A New Shade Of Blue originally issued on Los Angeles' Mainstream Records in 1971. When the big record companies were touting their answer to rock-and-roll with electric Miles and Herbie, producers like Bob Shad were advancing modern jazz without ignoring its past. Land cut his teeth on hard bop before adopting modal sounds and joined vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson's sessions for Blue Note Records (1968-1971).

The pair were living in Los Angeles in 1971 when these sides and Choma (Burn) were recorded for Mainstream. Back in the day, if this disc were released by Columbia or Blue Note it would have garnered praise it deserved with the stellar lineup of Hutcherson, Bill Henderson, Buster Williams, Billy Hart, and James Mtume. The music is a mix of modal jazz with undercurrents of hard bop. The title track is a casual blues piece suitable for players to stretch out a bit. Land solos first followed by Hutcherson, Henderson, and the sweetness that is Williams' bass. "Short Subject" is a knockout swinger and "Dark Mood" a modal piece with Land acknowledging the influence of John Coltrane on his sound. Although it was the only piece here not written by Land, "Mtume" is the centerpiece of the recording. It was also a composition recorded the same year on Hutcherson's release Head On (Blue Note) with an eleven-piece ensemble. The music, dedicated to the conga player, is a nod towards world music (a term not yet applied to the style) and it samples both African and Spanish flavors, with Henderson on electric piano. Even though it may have taken nearly fifty years to get the attention it deserves, A New Shade Of Blue is indeed a minor classic of jazz. 

If Harold Land had left nothing else behind him other than the 1960 Contemporary Records album The Fox, a place in jazz history would be secure. The disc not only featured some of the finest mid-period hard-bop tenor saxophone to come out of the West Coast, but in Land's frontline partner, Dupree Bolton, it showcased a trumpet soloist of outsize talent, one, tragically, who was cut down by heroin addiction and psychiatric problems almost as soon as the recording session was over. Bolton made a return to the studio in 1962 under the leadership of another West Coast tenor player, Curtis Amy, but The Fox was his chef (and almost only) d'oeuvre. 

Fortunately for us, Land's recorded legacy is considerably more extensive than that, both pre-The Fox, through his work with the Max Roach / Clifford Brown Quintet in the mid 1950s, and after it, most notably through his collaborative work with vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, which began in 1967 and continued for almost twenty years. 

A New Shade Of Blue is the first of three albums Land and Hutcherson recorded for Bob Shad's Mainstream label in 1971 and 1972. According to the liner notes, it was cut a couple of months after a club performance about which critic Leonard Feather wrote in The Los Angeles Times that if the group could be recorded just the way it sounded that night, the result would be "one of the monster jazz LPs of the year." 

And that is precisely what Bob Shad did, whether prompted by Feather's review or off his own bat. The sound on A New Shade Of Blue is raw going on rough. It sounds like a club date recorded with one microphone suspended over the band (though the liner photographs from the session show this was not in fact the case) and run through a mixing desk on which the input indicator on practically every dial is permanently in the red. There is minimal separation between the instruments, no discernible edits or drop-ins and definitely no compression. Shad knew precisely what he was doing and the result is the absolute coyote's cojones. 

Like Ray Charles' masterpiece Ray Charles In Person (Atlantic, 1960), which was recorded live with just one microphone suspended over the band, the sense of excitement is palpable. Key soloists Land, Hutcherson, keyboard player Bill Henderson and bassist Buster Williams are each luminously foregrounded. Billy Hart's drums are subdued during ensemble passages but in your face during breaks. Only James Mtume's congas are at times a little under-recorded. 

The result is jazz at its most thrilling and deliciously overwhelming. "A New Shade Of Blue" is a steaming blues. "Mtume" and "De-Liberation" are spiritual jazz at its most compelling. "Short Subject" and bonus track "Dark Mood" cook gloriously hard. "Ode To Angela," dedicated to Angela Davis, is a muscular near-ballad. The album is a 53-minute whirlwind. 

An overlooked chapter in the Harold Land/Bobby Hutcherson partnership that recorded more famously for Blue Note – a date that's issued here under the tenorist's own name, but which also features equal contributions from Hutcherson on vibes! Tracks have that long, modal quality that has the pair almost birthing a whole new generation in jazz expression – a style that's more sophisticated than earlier soul jazz, yet equally soulful in its own sort of way – aware of all the freedoms of the avant scene, yet never fully indulgent of them – and always guided by a spirit set loose by Coltrane, but in ways that are very different than so many others in the post-Coltrane generation! Part of that difference might be Land's personal phrasing on tenor – or Hutcherson's amazing approach to vibes – both without any sort of comparison at all, and set up here in a group that features Bill Henderson on acoustic and electric piano, Buster Williams on bass, Billy Hart on drums, and Mtume on congas.

Blue Mitchell - 1978 - Summer Soft

Blue Mitchell
Summer Soft

01. Try Not To Forget 7:20
02. Summer Soft 5:55
03. A Day At The Mint 6:15
04. Love Has Made Me A Dreamer 4:30
05. Evergreen 4:37
06.3 0° To The Wind 5:53
07. Funkthesizer 5:33

Backing Vocals – Julia Waters (tracks: 2, 4, 6), Luther Waters (tracks: 2, 4, 6), Maxine Waters (tracks: 2, 4, 6), Oren Waters (tracks: 2, 4, 6)
Bass – Scott Edwards
Electric Piano – Bobby Lyle (tracks: 2, 5, 7)
Guitar – Mike Dosco
Percussion – Paulinho Da Costa
Piano, Electric Piano – Cedar Walton (tracks: 1, 3, 6)
Synthesizer – Mike Boddicker
Trumpet – Blue Mitchell

Richard Allen “Blue” Mitchell (trumpet) was born on March 13, 1930 in Miami, Florida and passed away on May 21, 1979 in Los Angeles, California at the age of 49.

Mitchell took the nickname “Blue” in high school. Mitchell’s mother reportedly hoped to have a musician in the family, but her son only took up the trumpet to join his high school band at age 17.

The teenaged trumpeter came into music during the dawning days of bebop: he cited Dizzy Gillespies Shaw ‘Nuff, recorded in 1945, as an early influence, but he credited Dick Smothers, a Miami trumpeter and bandleader, as the inspiration for the lyricism that became his signature.

Like most young jazz musicians in the late forties, he idolized Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and began to play their tunes with bassist Sam Jones in a Miami Beach club, Jones and Mitchell would make six recordings together, including Something In Common, two years before Blue’s death.

While playing with a group in Tallahassee in 1948, Mitchell met saxophonist Cannonball Adderley. At this time, Mitchell worked primarily with rhythm and blues bandleaders, such as Paul Williams, Earl Bostic, and Chuck Willis. In Bostic’s band, he met Benny Golson, with whom he would later work closely.

Later that year, Mitchell returned to Miami, where he auditioned for Riverside Records producer Orrin Keepnews, who signed him to the label. He moved to New York, where he recorded Portrait of Cannonball, and began to record as a leader.

Big 6 (1958) is the first of Mitchell’s albums for Riverside. On these tracks, Mitchell stays mostly in the middle of his register, demonstrating an impeccable sense of time on heartfelt and straightforward ballads. Big 6 includes fine work by trombonist Curtis Fuller, a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, drummer Philly Joe Jones, and tenor saxophonist Jimmy Griffin.

Mitchell’s lyricism was rounder and more restrained than that of Clifford Brown, the leading trumpeter of bebop’s second generation, who died in 1956 at age 25. Brown set the example for virtually every trumpet player in Mitchell’s generation, including Lee Morgan, Bill Hardman, and Donald Byrd, who sought to combine the virtuosity of early bebop with the listenability and soulfulness of rhythm and blues.

In 1958, Mitchell also joined pianist Horace Silver’s quintet, where he stayed until 1964. Mitchell was definitely right for the group: his lyricism complemented Silver’s simplified, sometimes whimsical heads, on tunes such as the easy-going Strollin’ and the light, shotgun-tempo Nica’s Dream from Horace-Scope. He was generally at his best in a relaxed setting, and on ballads. He was also a perfect foil for tenor saxophonist Junior Cook, who shared his sense of melody.

Mitchell learned from Silver’s Cape Verdean-influenced repertoire and high standards for sidemen. Silver recorded only two albums a year, and set a high bar for his sessions. Mitchell followed this example with his own groups.

Pianist Wynton Kelly played with Mitchell on almost all of his Riverside sessions. Kelly also appears with eighteen-year-old trumpeter Lee Morgan on I Remember Clifford. Benny Golson’s elegy for the trumpeter who inspired their generation.

Overall, Mitchell’s four years with Riverside solidified his talent, and gave many of his young contemporaries opportunities for studio work. A number of them – Cedar Walton, Benny Golson, Curtis Fuller, and Horace Silver – belonged at different points to The Jazz Messengers. Blakey’s group was an incubator for some of the era’s best young jazz talent, without whom the Riverside recordings would not have been possible.

In 1959, one month after Miles Davis released Kind of Blue, Mitchell recorded Blue Soul for Riverside, adding Jimmy Heath on tenor saxophone and his old friend Sam Jones on bass. Mitchell picked up some of Davis’s figures on the uptempo Minor Vamp, which is nicely punctuated by tight kicks from Jones. His technique on this album has noticeably improved, with upper register notes and “sung” ballad lines played confidently.

In 1960, Mitchell departed from his intimate quintet setting to record Smooth as the Wind, orchestrated for trumpet and strings and conducted by Benny Golson. He later admitted that the session was nerve-wracking for him, possibly because of the size and orchestration of the band, and plays less evenly than on other albums. He does however do justice to the two Todd Dameron tunes on the record.

In 1962, Mitchell took his companions from Silver’s band – tenor saxophonist Junior Cook, bassist Gene Taylor, and drummer Roy Brooks – into the studio with pianist Cedar Walton to record The Cup Bearers for Riverside. On these tracks, his timbre is lovely, whether on the light swing of Why Do I Love You? or his bittersweet reading of How Deep is the Ocean, one of his finest recorded ballads.

Mitchell left Silver in 1964, then recorded The Thing To Do for Blue Note, his first session as a leader for the label. The album’s tracks, which include the young Chick Corea’s nimble and adventurous solo on the calypso-like Fungii Mama, were refined and tightened in eight separate performances before they were recorded. “I got that from Horace,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell’s albums in the late sixties and early seventies for Blue Note and Mainstream moved into soul jazz, perhaps trying to keep pace with the era’s listening public. The output was uneven, but his albums with alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson stand out, among them Midnight Creeper, with George Benson, recorded for Blue Note in 1968.

After leaving Blue Note, Mitchell freelanced. He toured from 1969 to 1971 with Ray Charles, and then from 1971 to 1973 with guitarist John Mayall. In the mid-seventies, he did dates with the big bands of Louis Bellson, Bill Holman, and Bill Berry. He also soloed with Lena Horne and Tony Bennett, and worked with tenor saxophonist Richie Kamuca.

It is perhaps fitting that Mitchell’s last work was with the hard-driving, Coltranesque Harold Land/Blue Mitchell Quintet from 1975 to 1978, with whom he recorded Mapenzi in 1977. It was the next step forward from the hard bop sound he loved, and helped shape.

Cancer forced Mitchell to retire from playing in October of 1978, He died on May 21, 1979 in Los Angeles, California at age 49.

Blue Mitchell - 1976 - Funktion Junction

Blue Mitchell
Funktion Junction

01. I'm In Heaven 5:37
02. AM-FM Blues 4:21
03. Then Came You 4:52
04. Daydream 4:45
05. Love Machine 7:19
06. Delilah 8:11
07. Collaborations 5:15

Bass – Henry Davis (tracks: A1, A2, B3), Ron Brown (tracks: A3, A4, B1, B2)
Bass Trombone [Horn Section] – Alan Raph
Cello [String Section] – David Moore
Drums – James Gadson
Guitar – David T. Walker, Michael Anthony
Percussion – Gary Coleman
Piano – Clarence McDonald
Synthesizer, Percussion – Mike Lipskin
Tenor Saxophone – Harold Land
Tenor Saxophone, Flute [Horn Section] – George Young
Trombone [Horn Section] – Wayne Andre
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Blue Mitchell
Trumpet, Flugelhorn [Horn Section] – John Gatchell, Jon Faddis
Violin [String Section] – Alvin Rogers, Harold Kohon, Norman Carr
Voice – Frank Floyd, Gwendolyn Guthrie, Patti Austin

I don't make those album name jokes usually, but this one should've probably been called Function Junktion. Yeah, it's your typical 2nd-half-of-the-70s-jazz-fusion-gone-wrong But it's not that horrible. Ok, "I Am in Heaven" begins as something of a low brow singalong tune, and the crew even manages to deny the magic of "Delilah". The two Mitchell compositions come off as pretty questionable, too... um, what was it I wanted to mention positively? Uh yes, "Daydream" has a relatively nice carefree feel, but on (m)any other Blue Mitchell albums you'd notice its cheese. Well, we can be sure that this will not be reissued, which at least enhances the formal value of this record.

Blue Mitchell - 1977 - African Violet

Blue Mitchell
African Violet

01. Mississippi Jump 6:38
02. Ojos De Rojo 4:04
03. Sand Castles 6:08
04. African Violet 6:38
05. As 6:28
06. Square Business 8:24
07. Forget 6:51

Blue Mitchell – trumpet (tracks 1, 2, & 4-6), flugelhorn (tracks 3 & 7)
Herman Riley (tracks 1 & 4), Harold Land (tracks 2, 3 & 5-7) – tenor saxophone
Sonny Burke – electric piano (tracks 1 & 4-7), piano (tracks 2 & 3)
McKinley Jackson (tracks 2, 4 & 7), Michael Boddicker (tracks 3, 5 & 6) – synthesizer
Lee Ritenour – electric guitar (tracks 1-7), guitar (track 7)
Scott Edwards – bass (track 1), electric bass (tracks 2-4 & 6)
Chuck Domanico – electric bass (track 5), bass (track 7)
James Gadson (tracks 1-4 & 6), Harold Mason (tracks 5 & 7) – drums
Paulinho Da Costa – congas (tracks 1, 2, 4 & 6)
Eddie "Bongo" Brown – congas, percussion (tracks 3, 5 & 7)
Bob Zimmitti – marimba (track 7), percussion (tracks 5 & 7)
Julia Tillman, Luther Waters, Maxine Willard Waters, Oren Waters – vocals (tracks 3 & 5)
The Sid Sharp Strings (tracks 3 & 7)

 A consummate hard bopper, Mitchell experimented with soul- and funk-jazz as the '70s wore on and these albums are no exception. Funky but lyrical, muscular yet still swinging with a modern jazz intensity, these albums feature Mitchell playing against small as well as large ensembles, including orchestral strings on African Violet. Reflecting the somewhat commercial approach to many jazz productions of the time with electric guitars and synthesizers in the mix, they are nonetheless worthy, hard to find recordings.

Blue Mitchell - 1975 - Stratosonic Nuances

Blue Mitchell
Stratosonic Nuances

01. Satin Soul 7:20
02. Creepin' 12:01
03. Bump It 4:53
04. Nutty 8:56
05. Melody For Thelma 6:55

Baritone Saxophone – Terry Harrington
Bass – Tony Newton
Clavinet – Clarence McDonald (tracks: A1, B2)
Drums – James Gadson
French Horn – Gale Robinson
Guitar – David T. Walker, Michael Anthony
Percussion – Gary Coleman
Piano [Solo] – Cedar Walton (tracks: A1, B1), Hampton Hawes (tracks: B2, B3)
Synthesizer, Piano [Solo] – Clarence McDonald (tracks: A2)
Synthesizer, Synthesizer [Solo] – Cedar Walton (tracks: B1)
Tenor Saxophone – Harold Land
Tenor Saxophone, Flute – Ralph Jones
Trombone – George Bohanon
Trumpet – Oscar Brashear
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Blue Mitchell

Considering that this record features trumpeter Blue Mitchell, tenor saxophonist Harold Land and (in guest spots) pianists Cedar Walton and Hampton Hawes, one might have expected great things. Unfortunately, the music is quite commercial (obviously recorded with potential record sales in mind) and is sunk by dull and instantly dated arrangements by Wade Marcus (who uses a five-piece horn section). Other than Thelonious Monk's "Nutty" (the only cut not arranged by Marcus), the music -- which includes songs by Barry White and Stevie Wonder in addition to two Mitchell arrangements -- is immediately forgettable.

Mitchell's first release on RCA. Cynics might say it's unlucky that he started to sell out so short before his death. On the a-side you get interpretations of popular soul tunes from Barry White and Stevie Wonder. "Satin Soul" is actually a nice tune, but the 12-minute take on "Creepin'" is really shallow and somewhat pointless, complete with embarrassing echo effects. "Bump It" seems to be an attempt at the classic funky Mitchell sound at double speed, with worse arrangement and a supposedly "out of space" synthesizer solo that comes out to be out of place. "Nutty" just makes me sleepy, even Harold Land's soloing is tired. "Melody for Thelma" is a relatively decent closer again. In the end this record is still better than Funktion Junction, but only completists need to know more than that.

And still one of my guilty pleasures, I find myself coming back to these sell-out albums, there is something comforting there I do enjoy... It can not be dissonance and lunacy all the time.

Blue Mitchell - 1974 - Many Shades of Blue

Blue Mitchell
Many Shades of Blue

01. Where It's At
02. Harmony of the Underworld
03. Funky Walk
04. Blue Funk
05. Golden Feathered Bird
06. Beans and Taters
07. Funny Bone
08. Hot Stuff

Blue Mitchell - Trumpet
Wilbur Bascomb, Jr. - Electric Bass
Michael Moore - Electric Bass
Joe Beck - Acoustic & Electric Guitar
John Tropea - Acoustic & Electric Guitar
Sam T. Brown - Acoustic Guitar
James Madison - Drums
James Bossy - Trumpet
Jon Faddis - Horn
Irwin "Marky" Markowitz - Horn
Joe Farrell - Flute, Tenor Sax
Seldon Powell - Tenor & Baritone Sax
Frank Vicari - Tenor Sax

Sweet electric 70s funk from Blue Mitchell -- blowing here in some of the hippest arrangements of his career! Blue's trumpet alone is always pretty darn great, but for this album he's working with arranger Dave Matthews -- who gives the tunes fierce groove that mixes vamping guitars with snapping drums -- sort of picking up the groove that Matthews forged with James Brown, but allowing for a lot freer jazz interplay!

The guitars are often recorded in a cool way that has them sounding a bit "watery" alongside the rhythms -- so much so, you'd swear they were keyboards at times -- and this approach sounds really great underneath Blue's tighter, harder, more punctuated solos over the top of the tracks.

I'm the biggest sucker for Blue Mitchell's 70s Mainstream sides. They were a major component of my initiation into the realm of jazzfunk and the first three are etched in my mind forever so, thanks the psychological process of imprinting, his sides are among the sine qua non of the milieu for me. I finally picked up a near mint vinyl copy of this one a few weeks ago and now need only Vital Blue to complete my Mitchell Red Lion series. This funky muther has already appeared at My Favourite Sound and Audio Design Studio in the past (check the shad shack for links) but during the Month(ish) of Mainstream we're stackin' 'em high and sellin' 'em cheap and this one's just another on the pile.

As usual, Blue has a stellar line up behind hime here since it seems Mitchell and Sarah Vaughan were the only artists on whom Shad actually spent proper money. The two are also tied as the most voluminously released artists on MRL (both providing 7 albums of new material for Shad in a few short years) so their stature, productivity and faithfulness were probably big factors in that equation. Not counting the split with Roy Haynes when Shad was in scavenger mode, this is the last LP Mitchell released on the label before it shuttered, after which he moved on to a series of labels.

Among these were RCA (Stratosonic Nuances, Funktion Junction) and ABC (African Violet, Summer Soft) where he would be slathered in strings and discofied to such a degree that on occasion he might as well have been just another one of the session musicians. Never again would he regain the raw funkiness and full-on souljazz feeling that typifies his Mainstream output. Mitchell would die before he had a chance to do so, passing away prior to the end of the decade at the relatively early age of 49.

Blue Mitchell - 1973 - The Last Tango = Blues

Blue Mitchell
The Last Tango = Blues

01. Soul Turn Around 4:20
02. Killing Me Softly With His Song 2:53
03. The Message 3:20
04. Steal The Feel 4:15
05. Last Tango In Paris 2:42
06. One For Russ 4:15
07. Peace 2:50
08. P.T. Blues 3:04

Alto Saxophone, Clarinet – David Angel
Baritone Saxophone, Bass Clarinet – Steve Kravitz
Bass [Fender] – Chuck Rainey, Darrell Clayborn
Drums – Ray Pounds
Flute – Jackie Kelso
Guitar – David T. Walker
Organ – Charles Kynard
Percussion – Chino Valdes, King Errisson, Paul Humphrey
Tenor Saxophone – Herman Riley, Jackie Kelso
Trumpet – Blue Mitchell

No tango here – just a great batch of hard, funky, trumpet-heavy groovers – all in the best early 70s Blue Mitchell mode! The album's easily one of Blue's best from the time – and although the tracks are a bit short, they're put together in a way that dovetails nicely with his earlier grooves on Blue Note at the end of the 60s – arranged by Richard Fritz with some fuller reeds behind the trumpet, in a mode that's partly between funky soundtracks and Kudu Records styles of the period.

The Last Tango = Blues translates the direct, soulful hard bop approach of Blue Mitchell's cult-classic Blue Note sessions into the funk-inspired grammar of mid-Seventies mainstream jazz. Teamed with guitarist David T. Walker, bassist Chuck Rainey, organist Charles Kynard and drummer Paul Humphrey, Mitchell concentrates on straightforward but imaginative readings of contemporary pop hits like "Killing Me Softly with His Song" and Cymande's "The Message"--Richard Fritz's vibrant arrangements further underscore the album's connection to radio and even blaxploitation soundtracks, but the performances are strictly next-level, complete with some of Mitchell's most fiery trumpet.

Blue Mitchell - 1973 - Graffiti Blues

Blue Mitchell 
Graffiti Blues

01. Graffiti Blues 7:16
02. Yeah Ya Right 5:28
03. Express 5:05
04. Asso-Kam 7:23
05. Dorado 8:58

Drums – Ray Pounds
Electric Bass – Darrell Clayborn
Electric Guitar – Freddie Robinson
Harmonica – Don Bailey
Piano – Walter Bishop, Jr.
Piano, Electric Piano – Joe Sample
Tenor Saxophone – Herman Riley
Trumpet – Blue Mitchell

One of Blue Mitchell's hippest funky sets of the 70s – an unusual little record that mixes a bit of funky harmonica with his own soulful trumpet! The approach definitely echoes a bit of the "blues" in the title – but the groove is much more straightforward and funky – that hard-edged approach that shows up on the best electric Mainstream sessions of the time, with a bad-stepping bottom that moves along nicely throughout!

The fourth of five Mainstream sets led by Blue Mitchell (which has been reissued on CD) finds the flexible hard bop trumpeter joined by a soulful and funky rhythm section (either Joe Sample or Walter Bishop Jr. on keyboards, guitarist Freddie Robinson, electric bassist Darrell Clayborn and drummer Ray Pounds) and tenor saxophonist Herman Riley. The group plays three straight funky blues, including the title cut which features Don Bailey on harmonica, as well as a couple of basic Sample originals and a Mitchell ballad feature on "Alone Again, Naturally." Although not up to the same level as Blue Mitchell's earlier Blue Note dates, this accessible set does a good job of balancing worthwhile solos with catchy rhythms and has dated surprisingly well.

Blue Mitchell - 1972 - Blues' Blues

Blue Mitchell
Blues' Blues

01. Casa Blues 8:25
02. Just Made Up 7:32
03. Blues' Blues 7:05
04. Granite & Concrete 9:51
05. I Didn't Ask To Be 10:09

Drums – John Guerin, Ray Pounds
Electric Bass [Fender] – Darrell Clayborn
Electric Guitar – Freddie Robinson
Electric Piano, Piano [Acoustic] – Joe Sample
Harmonica – John Mayall
Tenor Saxophone, Flute – Herman Riley
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Blue Mitchell

At the time that this Mainstream LP was recorded, Blue Mitchell was the featured trumpeter with John Mayall's blues group. Mayall returned the favor for Blue's set, playing harmonica with an electric octet headed by Mitchell. Among the sidemen are Herman Riley (on tenor and flute), keyboardist Joe Sample and guitarist Freddy Robinson. The material (all obscure originals) is primarily blues-oriented, and the music overall is listenable and funky, but not particularly memorable. Just an average date from these fine musicians.

Blue Mitchell - 1971 - Vital Blue

Blue Mitchell 
Vital Blue

01. Booty Shakin' 5:20
02. Vital Blue 5:17
03. Unseen Sounds 3:24
04. Herman's Helmet 6:57
05. I Love You 5:09
06. For All We Know 2:32

Bass – Stan Gilbert
Drums – Doug Sides
Flute, Tenor Saxophone – Joe Henderson
Piano – Walter Bishop, Jr.
Tenor Saxophone – Ernie Watts
Trumpet – Blue Mitchell
Vocals [Vocal Effects] – Susaye Greene

One of the more obscure Blue Mitchell albums of the 70s – and one of the most far-reaching too! The set's still got an electric current, like his other work on the Mainstream label at the time – but there's also less funk at the core, and more of a spiritual jazz vibe – a quality that definitely burns with the "vital" of the title, and which draws strongly from the album's great use of Joe Henderson on tenor and flute – whose presence here really helps underscore the righteousness of the sound! Ernie Watts also blows a bit on the record – and the rest of the group includes Walter Bishop Jr on acoustic and electric piano, Stan Gilbert on bass, and Doug Sides on drums. Susaye Greene adds in some totally amazing vocal effects at a few points – which really furthers the unique quality of the record

Often times, the label which an album is released on can tell you a lot about what the music will sound like, or will offer some sort of description of it. In the case of all of the albums released on the rather obscure Mainstream Records, this tendency does not hold true. Mainstream released a series of high quality soul-jazz recording in the ’60s and ’70s, but little more information can be gathered on the label. That is because the label remained, ironically, very underground rather than mainstream. While as a label, Mainstream is often forgotten, it was an important stopping point for major names like Carmen McRae, Maynard Ferguson and Art Farmer, among others. Its most consistent contributor, though, was trumpeter Blue Mitchell. Taking on the name Blue, which of course wasn’t given to him at birth, Mitchell fully embraced jazz’s strongest influence, the blues, and we hear this very clearly on spectacular 1971 release, “Vital Blue.”

Blue is clearly not fully embracive of new movements in jazz as, despite its 1971 release, it more resembles the sound of the 1960s. While he is playing in a very soulful manner and treads on funk with the ironically titled “Booty Shakin’,” he shies away from the fusion sound that was sweeping the jazz world by that year. He is not opposed to new techniques, though. The most innovative of his strategies is his use of the voice as an instrument, an idea not commonly explored in non-vocal jazz, by then. He employed Susaye Greene, who is notable due to her connection to Ray Charles, as his vocalist. She sings high pitched, wordless lines that at times resemble a flute. This is just a nuance of the album, but somehow manages to greatly improve the tunes. Joe Henderson and Ernie Watts account for the two-man reed section which sometimes rival the extraordinary playing of Mitchell himself. The horn trio occasionally play in unison leading to one of them breaking and soloing which allows for some pleasant contrast. Some of Mitchell’s best playing comes in the form of “Unseen Sounds” on which the composition is Spanish inspired and where the trumpeter really shines through. This songs title could very well refer to the fact that this was a sound Blue had not touched on yet. His style ranges to bebop following this track for the last song, the title track “Vital Blue” where Joe Henderson comes closest to being the most impressive horn player. Over the course of the album, the rhythm section proves to be very well capable of playing in a variety of styles. They are best though, on the albums opening two songs.

Sometimes, folks wrongfully attribute greatness only to those who were considered to be ahead of their time. Blue Mitchell clearly was not ahead of his time, in fact, he proves on “Vital Blue” to have been well behind it. But it is still a great album. He improved on what had already existed. Of course, he was not the only jazz player who had a similar sound in 1971, but it is safe to say he was one of the best. “Vital Blue” will surely inspire you to look further into Mitchell’s discography and the discography of Mainstream Records, one of jazz’s most important forgotten labels.