Album reviews

Blue Mitchell – ‘Blue Mitchell’ (rec. 1971)

Blue Mitchell – Blue Mitchell
(Newland 002
. Album review by Len Weinreich)

Trumpeter Richard Allen ‘Blue’ Mitchell (1930-1979) spent only 49 years on earth but, during his brief stay, managed to record some compelling albums. He rose to maturity at a time when Miles Davis and Clifford Brown were the twin gods of post-bebop trumpet, radiating influences impossible to ignore. But even though he absorbed their lessons, fashioned his own style, mastered the complex idiom of hard bop and made fine albums for Riverside and Blue Note, he achieved neither the recognition or reward he deserved. So, in his case, the dreaded description ‘under-rated’ is appropriate. Like so many other talented jazz musicians, he discovered that life is seldom fair. However, stars with big ears recognised Mitchell’s worth and fellow Floridian Cannonball Adderley took him into the studios to record for Riverside in 1958.

Mitchell’s work is always of interest: original, lyrical and rhythmic. He picks unusual notes. His phrasing is fluid, his tone unforced and burnished, never brassy. The five substantial tracks on this vinyl album feature Mitchell’s trumpet with Jimmy Forrest’s tenor saxophone playing with an established trio led by Walter Bishop Jnr on acoustic and electric piano, Larry Gales (five years with Thelonious Monk) on bass and Doug Sides on drums.

Hop aboard the time machine and set the dial for 1971. Hard boppers are feeling the pinch. Jazz music, under relentless attack from the rock juggernaut, is retaliating by reinforcing rhythmic pulse, revisiting sanctified roots and attempting fusion with the enemy. Which explains why this album (which has also been released as Soul Village) opens with Walter Bishop Jnr’s’ composition Soul Village, heavy on the gospel/funk spectrum. Mitchell has plenty of soul form, drawing on previous experience with Earl Bostic and Ray Charles, two major apostles of R&B. Over a solid mid-tempo beat, he deftly sidesteps soul clichés with new ideas. Forrest (who’d replaced Ben Webster in the Ellington reed section and then repaid the Duke by filching the theme of ‘Happy-Go-Lucky Local’ to repurpose it as ‘Night Train’ to his substantial financial advantage) blows his tenor with a gruff energy that compensates for lack of subtlety. Walter Bishop Jnr says his bit on electric piano, a sound which reignites memories of the 70s.

Blues For Thelma, which Mitchell dedicated to his wife, is unvarnished hard bop. He spins fresh long convoluted lines supported by Doug Sides’s highly intelligent drumming. Forrest wields his horn like a street fighter overcharged with menace and Bishop, now on acoustic piano, alternates agitated bebop runs with percussive block chords. It finishes with a lengthy coda packed with epigrammatic figures.

Queen Bey, a calypso by Mitchell, introduces the flavours of the Caribbean, his trumpet caressing intimate lines that, in a mood change, are followed by raw belligerence from Forrest’s tenor until Doug Sides beats out his only solo on the album.

When distinguished tenor player and composer Benny Golson was a glittering fixture in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, he composed a pretty piece called Are You Real. Here, the quintet opts for a Latin treatment and Mitchell plays an equally pretty melodic solo. Forrest’s interpretation is less tender and more hard-edged aggression. Walter Bishop Jnr winds up by channelling Bud Powell, his early influence, and playing excellent jazz.

Finally, Bishop’s exercise in boogaloo, Mi Hermano (Spanish for my brother). Tight unison trumpet and tenor over insistent electric piano. There are patches when Mitchell is at his most Milesian and Forrest releases his roughest edge. The ending is dark and abrupt.

Listening to this unusual interlacing of rough and smooth, it’s clear why this band attracted record audiences to Donte’s, a jazz club in North Hollywood, which had opened five years previously. Unfortunately, it did little to help boost Mitchell’s fame.

Produced by Bobby Shad, the album was recorded in March 1971 for the Mainstream label. This vinyl reissue has been meticulously transferred from the original analogue tapes by engineer Kevin Gray. The resulting sound is fat and rich and good enough to eat.

Track listing: Soul Village; Blues For Thelma; Queen Bey; Are You Real; Mi Hermano.

Blue Mitchell, trumpet; Jimmy Forrest, tenor saxophone; Walter Bishop Jnr., acoustic and electric piano, Larry Gales bass; Doug Sides, drums. Recorded New York City, March, 1971.

Blue Mitchell is released on 26 August on New Land Records

Not yet a subscriber of our Wednesday Breakfast Headlines?
Join the mailing list for a weekly roundup of Jazz News.


2 replies »

  1. Thanks for bringing this underrated trumpet player to the foreground. Mitchell played on one of the first Polydor LP’s I bought : John Mayall’s ‘Jazz Blues Fusion’ from 1972. I wasn’t really into jazz then, but Mitchell’s name ( and that of marvellous guitar player Freddy Robinson) stuck and most certainly directed me to the real thing !

  2. One of my favourite trumpet solos is the superbly melodic and swinging one by Blue Mitchell on ‘Filthy McNasty’ which he recorded whilst a member of Horace Silver’s Quintet. Very well worth a listen if you’re not already familiar with it.

Leave a Reply