Down With It!: The Blue Mitchell Quintet

Why should I bother with this?  There’s the great trumpet playing of Blue Mitchell; engaging piano from a young Chick Corea; a varied set from hot jukebox to cool Latin and bossa, and a fine ballad.  The whole package is complemented by exceptional sleeve notes from Phyl Garland, who offers up a counterblast to elitist critics and writers who seek to confine the music to a cerebral ghetto (and who ain’t got an iota of funk in ’em).

The band etc:-  Blue Mitchell (trumpet); Junior Cook (tenor sax); Chick Corea (piano); Gene Taylor (bass); AlFoster (drums).  Recorded 14 July 1965.  Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.  Sleeve Notes: Phyl Garland.  Cover photo: Reid Miles.  Issued as Blue Note 4214.

This was Blue Mitchell’s second session to be released on Blue Note (although his earliest Blue Note session as leader, from 1963, was released in 1980 as ‘Step Lightly’).  Junior Cook and Gene Taylor has previously been in Horace Silver’s Quintet with BM.

The music:-  ‘Hi-Heel Sneakers’ was originally recorded by Tommy Tucker.  To date it has been recorded by over 1,000 bands and artists and it is hard to imagine a better version (though Grant Green and Ramsay Lewis both come close with slightly different stylings).  Blue Mitchell heard it being performed by an RnB group in a Pittsburgh club and decided to give it a soul jazz makeover.  Junior Cook solos first before Blue takes things on over a tight rhythmic background.  Chick Corea plays a delightfully restrained solo before the band return to the head.  ‘Perception’ exudes Latin-tinged cool with Chick Corea getting space and time after BM and Cook.  ‘Alone, Alone and Alone’ was written by a Japanese trumpet player, Terumasa Hino who gave the tune to BM when he was playing in Tokyo.  For me it inhabits the same territory as ‘After The Rain’ and ‘Central Park West’ and conjures up images of a lazy Sunday in Manhattan.

Side Two opens with ‘March on Selma’.  Phyl Garland noted that this was not directly linked to the civil rights movement and this intrigued me.  Her comment led me to Google because I thought this striding theme may have been about a sassy 60’s metropolitan woman.  I was wrong.  The three civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama represented a watershed in the fight for black voter registration in the southern states.  The first march was broken up with great viciousness on ‘Bloody Sunday’ 7 March 1965 by State Troopers deploying tear-gas and truncheons.  Within 48 hours solidarity demonstrations took place in 80 American cities and Dr Martin Luther King flew to Selma to lead a second and finally third successful march to Montgomery.  The resulting Voting Rights Bill became law within a month of this recording session.  Linked or not, the tune has an irrepressible sense of optimism and momentum.  ‘One Shirt’ is a gently paced Latin workout ahead of the closing Bossa Nova of ‘Samba de Stacy’, both tunes written by William Boone, an old friend of Blue Mitchell’s from his hometown of Miami.

I was delighted to get my hands on a near mint stereo early pressing of this LP on 25 October 2013, for a fair auction price from a nice American who sells records on eBay. The absence of a Plastylite ‘ear’ confirmed that I do not have a first pressing and I was expecting the sound to have a little more presence and brightness. Given the title of the blog I had to get it and I may even seek out a mono version in due course (see post dated 8 January 2015 here).

Sadly, the YouTube link to ‘Hi-Heel Sneakers’ has been blocked (however, you may find a working link with my update on this post here). However, as of 4 Sept 2014 the link to ‘March on Selma’ posted by on YouTube by Roger rogerjazzfan is still available.

Phyl Garland’s sleeve notes really spell out where I will attempt to go in this blog, so no apologies for closing with an extensive quote:-

 “Of late, a certain dangerous myth has sprung up around this country’s most original and underrated art form.  It is that jazz, in order to be good, must be separate, exclusive and decidedly inaccessible, except for those few who approach it with a mystic’s vague abstraction.  This brand of thinking has been perpetuated by a cerebral cult that has all but analyzed the life out of the music and has tended to downgrade a musician once he has made the mistake of becoming too popular… …Fortunately the music has continued to thrive, far from the hue and cry created around it; and there remain enough eager listeners who refuse to be frightened away by all the bugaboo, selecting their sounds with open minds and uncluttered ears.

 Yes, its about time someone started extolling those whose music CAN readily reach a great many people, easily enveloping them in its warm spirit, inciting them to spells of foot-tapping and finger-popping.”

 

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