Category Archives: Harold Mabern

Bring It Home To Me: Blue Mitchell

Four years have passed since my first post was published here at downwithit.info on 19 September 2013.

The first recording that we listened to was Blue Mitchell’s ‘Down With It!’, for reasons that were self-explanatory.

In the meantime, 166 individual items have been posted. Long-cherished albums have been aired alongside sessions that were new to my ears and occasional new releases. A sprinkling of sites and blogs are concerned with similar modern jazz territory, though most centre on vinyl treasures that I have recently acquired or chosen to write about. Here at downwithit, there is rather more freedom available to me, since recordings on CD are devoured and commented on. Without CD issues my collection would be relatively small and the vinyl equivalents would have cost a sizeable fortune.

Although Bring It Home To Me was recorded a mere six months after Down With It! it seems to represent a step forward for Mitchell’s band who seem to be facing the future rather than delving into the past. That is not to suggest that a contemporary free sound is to be found here and the album remains firmly within the soul jazz spectrum. There were significant personnel changes and Harold Mabern replaced Chick Corea on piano with Billy Higgins in place of Al Foster on drums.

The title track is a pleasing blues that seems to suggest signs of a transition to a funk sound. Junior Cook takes the first solo. Mabern’s piano accompaniment is simple yet effective and he gives us a stylish soul jazz solo. Although some may be inclined to dismiss this as a ‘Sidewinder’ inspired piece, Mitchell charms with an engaging solo and it is perfect opener as you can hear via the following Youtube link:-

To play, click on or touch the arrow

Blues 3 for 1 is, as its title suggests, a jazz waltz and a jaunty, enjoyable one too, with Mabern delivering a memorable solo.

Time for the Latin mélange of Port Rico Rock, which fits in well here.

By January 1966 Mitchell’s friend and collaborator, Jimmy Heath’s, Ginger Bread Boy was an emerging standard. Mitchell’s version is more conventional than the sparse, edgier and far looser though better known recording that Miles Davis released a year later on Miles Smiles. There’s definitely a place for both and Mitchell’s soul-tinged trumpet tone heard here is more expressive and richer than the driving mumbled rumble originality that Miles was later to present.

Blue changes the pace with a gentle and sophisticated ballad Portrait of Jennie, a late 1940’s Hollywood theme which had previously been popularised by Nat King Cole and Clifford Brown.

The set closes with Blue’s Theme, which is an uplifting hard bop workout based on the I Got Rhythm chord changes. The sleeve notes recount that this was the band’s closing number when they played club performances.

The cover illustration is by George Wright. It has a superficial resemblance to Johnny Griffin and Kenny Burrell covers painted by Andy Warhol. Wright was a regular designer for Blue Note during this period and is credited with cover art direction for Freddie Roach’s Good Move and Stanley Turrentine’s Rough ‘N’ Tumble. I’ve not uncovered anything further so if you can add information please don’t hesitate.

Bring It Home to Me is the fourth of Blue Mitchell’s recordings as a leader at Blue Notes and it is a thoroughly enjoyable outing. My CD is a Japanese Blue Note 75th anniversary edition released in 2014.

The band etc:-  Blue Mitchell (trumpet); Junior Cook (tenor sax); Harold Mabern Jr (piano); Gene Taylor (bass); Billy Higgins (drums).  Recorded 6 January 1966.  Recorded by: Rudy Van Gelder, Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.  Sleeve Notes: Ira Gitler.  Cover Drawing: George Wright.  Issued as Blue Note BST 84228.

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The Gigolo: Lee Morgan

Gigolo Lee Morgan

It’s a warm spring evening and the new ‘downwithit Lounge’ in Hoxditch Hill is about to open for business. You know the sort of place and area. No children or old people (over 25s) for miles, hard won full beards will have to be shaved off by mid-April 2015 because they’ve been spotted in the provinces (Highgate and Deptford), the only pets allowed are pugs- specially dressed for the occasion and the door password is ‘Beyond Ice Cool’.
A conversation takes place which goes something like this:-
“Hey DJ, I’m opening the doors. Let’s have something to pack our clientele in!”
“OK boss. What’s it to be?”
“Hit ’em hard with the first track on this set, ‘Yes I Can. No You Can’t’ and guests and good times will surely follow.”

Have a listen to the original on YouTube.

To play, click or touch the arrow

So here we go, back to 1965, a shade under 50 years ago. Lee’s flying high and there’s a young lad on piano, one Harold Mabern Jr. On this opener he’s playing soul Jazz at a very high level. If you like this vibe and don’t already possess this recording, kick yourself and get out and get it. By the way, right here and right now in April 2015, Harry is just releasing a new album (Afro Blue), live from Smoke in NYC and featuring some young vocalists including Gregory Porter and Norah Jones

Next up, and the mythical downwithit Lounge has got ’em in and they are Trapped by the music. This is a Wayne Shorter composition. Didn’t I tell that Wayne’s on tenor saxophone duties on this set. Well, he is!

Speedball, a tune that remained as a staple within Lee Morgan’s repertoire, makes its first appearance here. It’s a fine hard bop tune. The band is really tight and Lee is at his very best.

Title track, The Gigolo, is a fast heady Jazz waltz tune- although perhaps my understanding of the time signature is mistaken. It is exciting and enjoyable with a worthy contribution from Wayne Shorter.

The album closes with Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. Actually, that’s not true, it is You Go To My Head – but there is a link and your starter for 500 in any quiz. The link is that both songs were written by Coots and Gillespie. Morgan’s take here is wonderful, pure caberetsville and is probably recorded because Bill Evans and Freddie Hubbard cut a well-regarded version in 1962 (thanks to Ted Gioia‘s magisterial The Jazz Standards for this snippet).

Every so often a little research around a review reveals an interesting sidetrack to explore. Although Blue Note covers are generally strong and visually appealing, especially if Reid Miles and Francis Wolff were involved, this one isn’t particularly wonderful. The tight cropping of a picture of Morgan playing his trumpet provides us with an engaging image with a classic rule of thirds leading our eyes to Morgan’s embouchure- but I’m not at all keen on the use of full colour for the final print. Black and white or an overlay of a single colour over the image worked well on numerous classic Blue Note sleeves, especially when coupled with well-chosen typefaces. The later designs, using a colour picture of the artist or, of a model seem to me to be less powerful and following the retirement of Alfred Lion as a producer and the sale of Blue Note to Liberty, Reid Miles design work association with the label ended.

Incidentally, Wikipedia records that:- Miles wasn’t particularly interested in jazz, professing to have much more of an interest in classical music; he received several copies of each Blue Note album he designed but gave most of them to friends or sold them to used record shops. Miles used the descriptions of the sessions relayed to him by producer Alfred Lion to create the artwork.

This album cover was designed by Forlenza Venosa Associates, who went on to deliver over 50 covers. They are typified by full colour pictures featuring the artist or a model and are often rather boring head and shoulder shots, in my opinion. The late Robert Venosa went on to work as a successful member of the Fantastic Realism school of artists and apparently his pictures are represented in major museum collections and in the private collections of ‘…rock stars and European aristocracy.’ I don’t covet any of them. He also designed Santana’s Abraxas album cover, although he was not responsible for the cover painting.

The Gigolo is well worthy of your attention, despite the cover. If you see a copy, get it. You are unlikely to be disappointed. Lee Morgan and the band are in great form. Nat Hentoff summed it up in the original sleeve notes, writing: ‘It’s the kind of set you know- by the way you feel- will never be dated.’ The CD copy has a slightly longer alternate take of title track as a bonus.

S.Mos delivered a mash up version and mixed in Tupac Shakur. There’s a link here for your enjoyment. It’s a bit 2011 for downwithits Hoxditch Hill lounge, but you may enjoy it. The bass is more to the fore on this one.

To play, click or touch the arrow

The band etc:- Lee Morgan (Trumpet); Wayne Shorter (tenor sax); Harold Mabern (piano); Bob Cranshaw (bass); Billy Higgins (drums). Recorded: June 25 and July 1 1965. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Sleeve Notes: Nat Hentoff. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Cover Design: Forlenza Venosa Associates. Issued as Blue Note 84212.

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