Tag Archives: Blue Mitchell

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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Harold Vick: Steppin’ Out

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In the jazz universe, some stars appear brighter than others, while others are not even visible to the naked eye. In pondering this, I began to read about cosmology, Hipparchus, Norman Pogson and perceived brightness. Then the hard maths formulas started to appear and I decided it was time to get back to the music here at downwithit.

Harold Vick barely registers as a footnote these days and, doesn’t even make the index in Cookin’, Kenny Mathieson’s superb book about hard bop.

I first became aware of HV through his tenor playing on Big John Patton’s Along Came John and then became determined to get hold of his sole Blue Note set as a leader. The CD is not difficult to track down, though it can attract a premium price.

Steppin’ Out is well worth the search since it features performances from John Patton and drum partner Ben Dixon as well as the great Blue Mitchell and Grant Green. All are on fine form.

Featuring five self-penned numbers and only one standard (Laura), Steppin’ Out represented a great opportunity for Vick. Our Miss Brooks is a blues with something of a burlesque quality that a gifted fan dancer could flutter her feathers to (I gather burlesque is almost respectable these days and taught through the medium of evening classes in some places). HV, the dexterous Grant Green and John Patton on Hammond, really contribute to the ambience.

Our Miss Brooks from YouTube follows:-

To play, press or click on the arrow.

Trimmed in Blue is a hard bop tune with a saxophone line that confirms that Harold Vick played alto before he played tenor and that he was well-versed in Charlie Parker’s styling. Blue Mitchell’s trumpet is bright and clear, indeed, the very epitome of clarion clarity.

Laura, a Raskin / Mercer composition follows. It is one of those melancholy sax and organ outings that could provide a soundtrack to a slow autumnal midnight walk along The Albert Embankment, while contemplating something sweet, yet lost. Then it goes into double time and new hope rises like the sun- or at least that’s one way you may imagine this piece perhaps? (The Editor says: “Shut up, immediately!”).

Dotty’s Dream is an organ-fuelled hard bop strolling tune with a fine finger-picking solo from Grant Green. The ending, when the horns return is nicely arranged. Next up, Vicksville is a bluesy soul-jazz lope with Blue Mitchell showing his skills and Harold Vick discretely exploring the full range of his tenor. Finally, Steppin’ Out, the title track, is a blues which sounds like it was a joy to play on. There are some tunes that bring a smile to the face and I feel sure the musicians were having a great time playing on this one.

Harold Vick went on to work, largely in a hard bop and soul-jazz context. He recorded seven other albums away from Blue Note as a leader, which I have yet to hear. Amongst them, his Caribbean Suite seems, perhaps, the most promising from the reviews I’ve read.

He also had another axe in his sack, having studied to degree level in Psychology, with a view to further training as a Clinical Psychologist. However, as far as I am aware, his musical career meant that he never realised that ambition. He also appeared in a couple of films, including Spike Lee’s School Days (and playing on the sound track of She’s Got To Have It). Sadly, he died of a heart attack, aged only 51, in 1987.

So there we are. Harold Vick was a gifted tenor saxophonist who has been overlooked but who still deserves to be listened to- especially in such stellar company as on Steppin’ Out.

The band etc: Harold Vick (tenor saxophone); Blue Mitchell (trumpet); Grant Green (guitar); John Patton (organ); Ben Dixon (drums). Recorded: 27 May 1963. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Joe Goldberg. Cover photos and design: Reid Miles. Issued as Blue Note 84138.

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The downwithit playlist: Twenty great tracks for you to listen to

The downwithit playlist is a list of 20 YouTube track selections that I have used to give readers a taste of the albums that I have looked at here on downwithit. They are highlighted and form part of a full post.

They are gathered together here for your further pleasure. Click on the burnt orange title to link directly to YouTube and listen.

If you would like to read my full post for the album, each one is available to read here on downwithit

The following six tracks should open on a tablet or mobile device and a computer:-

Tommy Chase: Grove Merchant: Killer Joe
Abdullah Ibrahim: Mannenberg
Pharoah Sanders: Africa: You’ve Got To Have Freedom
The Crusaders: Hollywood: Hollywood
Don Wilkerson: Preach Brother: Camp Meetin’
John Jenkins: John Jenkins with Kenny Burrell: Sharon

The following fourteen tracks should open on a computer, but will not open on a tablet or mobile device:-

Blue Mitchell: Down With It. Hi-Heel Sneakers
John Coltrane: Blue Train: Blue Train
Horace Silver: Six Pieces of Silver: Camouflage
Horace Parlan: Movin’ n Groovin’: On Green Dolphin Street
Joe Henderson: Mode For Joe: Mode For Joe
Johnny Griffin: The Big Soul Band: Wade In The Water
Freddie Roach: Brown Sugar: Brown Sugar
Fred Jackson: Hootin’ ‘N Tootin’: Southern Exposure
Lee Morgan: The Sidewinder: The Sidewinder
Grover Washington: All The King’s Horses: Lean On Me
Kenny Dorham: Una Mas: Una Mas
Jimmy Smith: Home Cookin’: See See Rider
Freddie Roach: The Soul Book: One Track Mind
Kenny Burrell: Out Of This World: Montono Blues

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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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