Put Hans Mantel, bassist, jazz historian and radio host in a chair, ask him one question about hard bop, and he’s off on a wild tangent. Endearing ruminations about playing with and learning from American Greats such as Stanley Turrentine, Barry Harris, Red Holloway, Ray Brown and Art Blakey alternate with a thoughtful discours on the merits of famous bass players Paul Chambers and Sam Jones and the ‘almost telepathic ryhthmic and melodic innovations’ of the Lee Konitz/Warne Marsh outfit of the early fifties. And then there’s that question hanging in the air if contemporary jazz is meant for posterity. What Mantel is sure of is that the giants of the classic era of jazz weren’t busy making records for the 21st Century Schizoid Man. As Wayne Shorter put it to Mantel a while ago: “What you young cats must realize is, is that we made records to pay our rent!”But in no way does Mantel suffer from Nostalgia In Times Square. After wandering off into a side street for a few insightful minutes, humming a standard to accompany one or another assumption, Mantel usually comes back to the point straightforwardly, and full of enthousiasm and passion for all things jazz. And the points that we are currently involved with, residing in the college room at the Conservatory of Utrecht, The Netherlands, where Mantel teaches, are a number of Mantel favorites from the realm of hard bop and soul jazz. A number? Yes, got a minute?
“If I’d have to pick one from that great stretch on Blue Note in the late fifties, when Alfred Lion was still aboard, it would certainly be Hank Mobley’s Soul Station. You can smooth out a recording session as one carves a sculpture endlessy, till it’s assumed perfect. But you can also walk into the studio and trust that everybody’s hat is cocked at the same angle, including producer Rudy Van Gelder’s. It’s that way with Soul Station. Everything comes together in a rare moment. Wynton Kelly is in excellent form, Paul Chamber’s sound is pristine. And Art Blakey, usually a heavy player, adapts very well to a relatively soft-hued, swinging session. The compositions are deceptively simple and well-balanced. On a lot of other Blue Note recordings it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the quality of the compositions. But on Soul Station authenticity is its main asset.” Does that exclude Hank Mobley’s Workout? “ O no, not at all. A fantastic record. Same goes for Another Workout. But Soul Station is something special. To me.”
“It’s pretty hard picking one favorite record from an artist. Well, virtually impossible! Take Horace Silver. For your sake, I’d like to see the period of his quintet featuring Junior Cook and Blue Mitchell as one whole; records such as Blowin’ The Blues Away and Tokyo Blues. what attracts me in that group? Well, it obviously runs like a Swiss watch! About a decade ago I discovered tv footage for a Dutch programme. (Senor Blues, Cool Blues, on NPS Jazz) How sharp that group was, and concentrated and dedicated. Unbelievable.
“It might be an uncommon comparison, but in my view Horace Silver’s essence relates to that of Burt Bacharach. I once asked Bacharach the question that naturally is on everybody’s lips: ‘What makes a Bacharach song a Bacharach song? What is it?’ He answered: ‘If I would only know!’ I guess Silver wasn’t exactly conscious of what made his funky, groovy hard bop tunes tick. But tick they did!’
Mentioning Cannonball Adderley makes Mantel shift in his seat, for a number of reasons. “Cannonball is full of life, frivolous and he sounds positive. All the more so combined with Yusef Lateef, the sextet. You know, Miles Davis took in Cannonball (in 1958) because he liked that blues thing. Ironically, Cannonball hired Lateef (in 1961) for the same reason, because he wanted someone who could blow a heavier blues than him! Dig, for instance, Trouble In Mind. (from In Europe, 1962) Lateef is known for that Eastern stuff, of course, but he was a real bluesman as well, essentially.
“I like the Cannonball records featuring pianists Bobby Timmons, Victor Feldman and Joe Zawinul.” When mentioning Barry Harris, who played on the classic Them Dirty Blues, the sparkle in Hans Mantel’s eyes resembles a ray of Marrakech sunlight through a tiny terracota window. “Barry Harris! Well, in my mind Harris is the greatest hard bop pianist of all time. And one of the major teachers. His depth is frightening. Did you know that Barry Harris is the most renowned authority on the works of Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell?”
Naturally, Barry Harris contributed masterfully to the Blue Note, Riverside and Prestige catalogue. Mantel stresses, however, that Viccisitudes (MPS, 1972) is a crackerjack job, and that we shouldn’t underestimate his work for Xanadu in the seventies. “If Barry Harris ever makes a record on which we hear him playing poker, I’ll buy it.”
“You know, I could pick any record out of the hard bop section of my record collection with a blindfold and select it as a favorite for one particular reason. Take Solid from Grant Green (Recorded in 1964 but released in 1979) featuring James Spaulding and Elvin Jones, among others. I sometimes pick a record like that, listen to it attentively for a couple of weeks, walking with my head in the clouds. It’s such a goddamn good record. It remained in the vaults for ages before finally being released. A crime and misdemeanor!”
It would certainly be a crime and misdemeanor to put back into the vaults this bunch of wonderful records that bassist, jazz lector and aficionado shed his light upon. So let’s hurry to our turntables.
Since 1977, as one of the most sought-after Dutch bassists, Mantel has worked around Europe and toured extensively in the United States, The Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia, India and Africa. Over the last thirty years Mantel has accompanied a myriad of jazz artists in clubs, on festivals, recording dates, on radio and television and well… during as many jam sessions as possible. Among them are: George Benson, Clark Terry, Carmen McRae, James Carter, Roy Hargrove, Stanley Turrentine, Frank Foster, Art Blakey, Red Holloway, Horace Parlan, Gregory Hutchinson, James Moody, Idris Muhammad, Jackie Terrason, Brother Jack McDuff, Barry Harris and John Hicks.