BLUE MITCHELL: THE CUP BEARERS
Blue Mitchell (tp) Junior Cook (ts) Cedar Walton (p) Gene Taylor (b) Roy Brooks (drs)
Recorded at Plaza Sound Studios, New York City;
Turquoise (4:59) (Cedar Walton)
Why do I Love You? (5:25) (Kern – Hammerstein)
Dingbat Blues (5:37) (Charles Davis)
Capers (5:59) (Tom McIntosh)
Cup Bearers (6:16) (Tom McIntosh)
How Deep Is the Ocean? (6:40) (Irving Berlin)
Tiger Lily (8:32) (Thad Jones)
An album by blue Mitchell is not apt to be an ordinary one. His may not be the flashiest of jazz talents, but in his remarkably desiccated and craftsman-like (in the very best sense of that word) way he sees to it that each recording issued under his name has something of its own to say, and is always more than just a stringing together of a specified number of tunes.
This personal stamp of specific purpose is once more in evidence here. This album might, at first glance, appear to be a blowing session carried on by four-fifths of the Horace Silver Quintet, with pianist Cedar Walton substituting for the absent leader. But that ‘s not quite the case. Blue Mitchell is very much the leader on this date, and in ways that give it far more musical meaning than a standard, arbitrary blowing session.
For one thing, silver’s influence is for the most part conspicuously and deliberately absent. It exists only in the sense that Horace is responsible for the fact that most of these men are so well accustomed to playing together (a virtue that is lacking not only on most blowing dates, but on a good many large and complex jazz LPs as well).
Actually, a major emphasis here is on composition. Not too long ago, it was extremely rare for any small-group East Coast album to contain an unfamiliar jazz piece, except perhaps for a Charlie Parker “classic” and the inevitable originals (often “composed” on the spot) by musicians performing o the date. Today, with more serious musicians and more serious criticism, the material itself does receive more care and attention. Still, it is rare to find an album prepared in the manner of this one.
What happened was this; Mitchell, feeling that many of his contemporaries possess overlooked compositional talent, singled out several whose work he believed might be particularly suitable for him, and went to them to solicit new music. Naturally, it took far longer than usual for an album to be assembled in this way – Blue saw and considered many more pieces than the cold use, and those he chose were then adapted by their composers for this specific quintet usage – but I think you will find that the results were well worth the effort.
The fist of these five originals is the only one written by a performer here: Turquoise, by Cedar Walton, who is currently pianist with Art Blakey, to whose group he has contributed several interesting pieces/ Thad Jones, represented here by the blues called Tiger Lily, has written intriguing lines before, and is a brilliant trumpeter who occasionally emerges from his hideaway in the Basie band to restate his authority. Charles Davis, whose Dingbat Blues is the one piece indicating any silver-ish influence, is a young baritone saxophonist.
Two numbers, Caper and this writer’s personal favorite here, Cup Bearer, are by Tim McIntosh, a trombonist formerly with The Jazztet and James Moody. McIntosh, who appears to be sliding gradually into a certain prominence as a composer, is one of those jazz writers who occasionally come along, unheralded by fans or critic, and achieve currency because a number of musicians separately and almost simultaneously decide to record their work.
By contrast, the other two selections are among our finest standards, Jerome Kern’s Why Do I Love You and Irving Berlin’s How Deep Is the Ocean, and they serve to point up how truly different a jazz piece is from a popular song played by jazz musicians.
While Mitchell plays throughout the album in his accustomed moving and “singing” style (and demonstrates that he was accurate in his choice of tunes he considered well-adapted for him), I would especially like to comment on the work of Junior Cook. The tenor saxophonist has here, I think, one of his finest hours on records. Like most of the younger saxophonists, he has been touched by Coltrane; unlike the great majority of them, be has found one particular aspect suitable, and has fashioned something personal from it. I refer to the poignant, lyrical side of Coltrane’s work of about 1958, from which Cook seems to have fashioned his style.
Mention of Coltrane in 1958 leads me to thoughts of Miles Davis, in whose quintet “Trane was playing in that year. Specifically, my reference is to the fact that I find portions of this album to be further proof that several techniques which Davis brought to fruition in that quintet now constitute a most pervasive force in current jazz playing. It does the musicians on this record no disservice to note that their performances of those two standard tunes, while in no sense merely imitative (Blue has some very definite things of his own to say on numbers like these), would not have been possible except for that Davis quintet.
The extension of existing methods and techniques in jazz (such as Miles has bee doing) has always implied that he next innovation or revolution is on its way in a natural and gradual way – not because it has been jammed down anyone’s throat, but because the musicians want it. While that innovation is in the process of taking shae, a musician like Blue Mitchell does us the very valuable service of continuing to point out the best elements in what is now available.
BLUE MITCHELL is also featured on Riverside on –
Smooth as the Wind: Blue Mitchell with Strings ad Brass (RLP 367; Stereo 9367)
A Sure Thing (RLP 414; Stereo 9414)
Blue’s Moods (RLP 336; Stereo 9336)
Blue Soul (RLP 309; Stereo 1155)
Out of the Blue (RLP 293; Stereo 1131)
Big Six (RLP 273)
Produce by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recoding Engineer: RAY FOWLER
Recorded at Plaza Sound Studios, New York City
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner photos by STEVE SCHAPIRO
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street, New York City 36, New York