Blue Mitchell - The Thing To Do

Blue Mitchell The Thing To Do (Blue Note 1965)

Approximately seven years into his recording career, Blue Mitchell hit his stride on Blue Note with one of his greatest efforts, The Thing To Do.

Blue Mitchell - The Thing To Do

 

Personnel

Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Junior Cook (tenor saxophone), Chick Corea (piano), Gene Taylor (bass), Aloysius Foster (drums)

Recorded

on July 30, 1964 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BST-84178 in 1965

Track listing

Side A:
Fungii Mama
Mona’s Mood
The Thing To Do
Side B:
Step Lightly
Chick’s Tune


Can’t go wrong with Blue Mitchell. Among the young and spectacular trumpeters of his generation – Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and Donald Byrd – Mitchell held his own employing supple phrasing and a bright tone, adhering to the motto’s of less is more and what you see is what you get, his stories back flipping in a bowl of soul. He made his first string of records for Riverside, introduced by, who else, Cannonball Adderley. He subsequently switched to Blue Note in 1963, a perfect fit. The accessible Mitchell, cast in the warm and transparant Blue Note mould by Rudy van Gelder, went down well in the black community, a successful addition to Blue Note’s mainstream roster till the end of the decade, well into the “United Artists” period of Blue Note after the retirement of Alfred Lion. Mitchell furthermore recorded mostly for Mainstream and found a home in the band of British blues star John Mayall in the early 70’s, who was a devoted fan of Mitchell’s work with Horace Silver. Mitchell died prematurely in 1979.

Ain’t everyone of us crazy about that particular edition of the Horace Silver Quintet. Between 1959 and ’63, Mitchell appeared on, among others, Finger Poppin’, Blowin’ The Blues Away and Doin’ The Thing, all of those with tenor saxophonist Junior Cook and all of those Silver classics. A sought-after trumpeter, Mitchell cooperated with Cannonball Adderley, Jackie McLean, Elmo Hope, Stanley Turrentine, Hank Mobley and Dexter Gordon, as well as Hammond organists Jimmy Smith, Don Patterson, Freddie Roach and Big John Patton.

Jazz is a music of sidemen figuring out a new strategy. Basie ran with the Moten band. Former Miles Davis associates Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul and Miroslav Vitous formed Weather Report. And Mitchell hooked up with Cook and bassist Gene Taylor from the Silver band, rounding out his new quintet with the promising pianist Chick Corea. In the comfort zone of his pals and confronted with the fresh voice of Corea, Mitchell delivered a sprightly gem.

The Thing To Do has always struck me as an excellent starter for burgeoning jazz fans, very well capable of sharing that virtue with The Sidewinder or Moanin’. It’s joyful, smooth, relaxed but energetic and features a classic opening tune, Fungii Mama, underlined by a calypso rhythm that never fails to ignite a broad smile and occasionally – one easily imagines – a bit of buoyant shaking of the hips. Corea’s catchy The Thing To Do is marked by the composer’s suspenseful alternate chords and poignant, Monk-like comping. He cuts the meandering lines of an invigorating solo in half with two brash chords. The combination of the typical Blue Note line-up – bright trumpet, smoky tenor – with Corea’s mix of blues stylings and slightly edgy shenanigans is this session’s extra treat. Also, shout choruses and the alternation of riffs behind the soloists keep things zestfully movin’ and signify the influence of Mitchell/Cook’s former boss, Horace Silver, who himself in this respect was influenced by Count Basie.

The Thing To Do was Mitchell’s debut record on Blue Note. Step Lightly, his first session on Blue Note in 1963 featuring Joe Henderson, Leo Wright and Herbie Hancock, wasn’t released until 1980. A different and very good ballgame, but arguably The Thing To Do, which also included Joe Henderson’s great blues tune Step Lightly, was the best choice for Mitchell’s start on the legendary label. Lovely, soulful stuff.

Charlie Rouse - Takin' Care Of Business

Charlie Rouse Takin’ Care Of Business (Jazzland 1960)

Monk’s long-running sideman takes care of business on his own.

Charlie Rouse - Takin' Care Of Business

Personnel

Charlie Rouse (tenor saxophone), Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Walter Bishop Jr. (piano), Earl May (bass), Art Taylor (drums)

Recorded

on May 11, 1959 at Plaza Sound Studios, New York City

Released

as JLP-19 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Blue Farouq
“204”
Upptankt
Side B:
Weirdo
Pretty Strange
They Didn’t Believe Me


Aten-year stint in the group of Thelonious Monk ain’t chicken feed. This was the accomplishment of tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse and it speaks volumes about his skills, artistry and personality. Rouse was asked to join Monk at the start of 1959, the successor to the stint of Johnny Griffin and two short engagements of Sonny Rollins and former Monk associate John Coltrane. That’s a lot of tenor madness and a hell of a challenge. Nobody would’ve argued that Rouse is in the league of Coltrane and Rollins, nor would it have been easy to match the fire of The Little Giant. Indeed, for a lot of people, Charlie Rouse was a surprise pick, not least for a slew of young lions soliciting for the job, Wayne Shorter among them.

Rouse was already a veteran of sorts with a great track record, who had played in the bands of Billy Eckstine, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and Tadd Dameron and was a prolific sideman in the 50s. Preceding the Monk period, Rouse co-led the sophisticated group The Jazz Modes with French horn player Julius Watkins. After a nervous start, he got off well with The High Priest. It is said that Monk was particularly enamored by the genial, relaxed Rouse, which surely was, apart from his abilities, one of the reasons they gelled so well for such a long time. Rouse quickly adjusted to Monk’s focus on melodic improvisation.

Rouse’s contribution on Monk’s 5 By 5 record, sharing the frontline with Thad Jones, is especially spicy and belies the rigorous opinion that Rouse’s solo’s better be casually accepted, criticism ventured from his start with Monk and the kind that inclines to become myth and survive for numerous decades. It would be interesting as well to take a listen to Rouse the balladeer, predominantly his lush interpretation of When Sunny Gets Blue on We Paid Our Dues on Epic from 1961, a record that is equally divided between the groups of Rouse and Seldon Powell.

Takin’ Care Of Business may not be the most inspired of titles. Who didn’t take care of it? However, it’s a strong effort from a top-notch group that further includes trumpeter Blue Mitchell, pianist Walter Bishop Jr., bassist Earl May and drummer Art Taylor. Mitchell contributed Blue Farouq, a hip blues line that also is featured on organist Melvin Rhyne’s Organ-izing and Junior Cook’s Junior’s Cookin’. Interestingly, “204” in fact is Randy Weston’s wonderful waltz Hi-Fly, the initial version with a slightly differing melody. Rouse’s Upptankt (meaning what?) and Kenny Drew’s Weirdo provide the saucy bop contrast to the jaunty take on Jerome Kern composition They Didn’t Believe Me and Randy Weston ballad Pretty Strange – which indeed is pretty strange, certainly not your usual melody with a sequence that is somehow unresolved, moving in front of the bedroom window like a thin fog and rather intriguing in its own weird way.

Solid mainstream from a punchy band, Rouse flowing and with sustained, logical ideas and slightly edgy tones opposite Blue Mitchell’s sinuous, exuberant lines and Walter Bishop Jr.’s charged bop style. Turn-of-that-decade quintet stuff that merits plenty of attention.

The Junior Cook Quintet - Junior's Cookin'

The Junior Cook Quintet Junior’s Cookin’ (Jazzland 1962)

Junior’s Cookin’ is the only album as a leader in the sixties from tenor saxophonist Junior Cook. Superb hard bop date.

The Junior Cook Quintet - Junior's Cookin'

Personnel

Junior Cook (tenor saxophone), Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Dolo Coker (piano), Gene Taylor (bass), Roy Brooks (drums)

Recorded

on April 10 & December 4, 1961 at Gold Star Studios, Long Beach, California and New York City

Released

as JLP 58 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Myzar
Turbo Village
Easy Living
Side B:
Blue Farouq
Sweet Cakes
Field Day
Pleasure Bent


How many references to cookin’ can you handle? Following his debut as a leader, Junior’s Cookin’ from 1962, the 70s and 80s saw the release of Pressure Cooker, Good Cookin’ and Something’s Cookin’. Of course, there’s a close relationship between jazz and food, depending on how far you want to take it. If you don’t mind me traveling a couple miles from home base, I won’t hesitate to state that more often than not, you can just smell jambalaya, kidney stew or ribs in the juicy notes of Louis Armstrong, Brother Jack McDuff, Lee Morgan, to name a few… I’m pretty sure this can’t be applied to classical music, which as a principle is non-spontaneous. (Though it once was common practice, as brilliant composers and pianists like Franz Liszt reportedly did, to partly improvise) But perhaps you disagree and feel very strongly the taste of Sachertorte in the waltzes of Johann “Fledermaus” Strauss.

What’s cookin’? Well, the group of Junior Cook, sous chef of the Horace Silver Gourmet Restaurant. (Just one last cheesy culinary reference to end all matters) Junior Cook, born in Pensacola, Florida in 1934, deceased in NYC in 1992, came into prominence with the hard bop pioneer’s group, blending particularly well in the ensembles with Blue Mitchell, who’s his superb and lively mate on this album as well. As a matter of fact, also present on Junior’s Cookin’ are bassist Gene Taylor and drummer Roy Brooks, who were part of the Silver line-up including Cook and Mitchell as well, a group that existed from 1958 to 1964 and is by many regarded as the essential Silver band. After his stint with Silver, Cook was in Mitchell’s band from 1964 to 1969. He also played in trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s group from 1971 to 1974. Notable albums on which Cook is featured are Horace Silver classics as Finger Poppin’, The Tokyo Blues and Doin’ The Thing, Kenny Burrell’s Blue Lights Volume 1 & 2, Barry Harris’ Luminiscence and Cedar Walton’s Cedar.

With this line-up involved, effortless swing and crisp group interplay are guaranteed. Myzar, one of four Cook original compositions, is a splendid example of Cook and his group’s hi-quality hard bop. An Eastern-tinged brass and reed melody underscored by a repetitive Senor Blues-type piano figure, which moves smoothly forth and back to the crisp, straightforward swing section. Cook’s cookin’, yes. Not to be mistaken with cookin’ in the sense of riffin’, stringing together exciting but loose-jointed blues phrases. Far from it. Albeit graced with an abundance of blues feeling, Cook’s playing is remarkably balanced. Taste written all over it. A heir to Hank Mobley, in this respect. Also a Silver alumnus, from the pioneering line-up of The Messengers of late ’54 and early ’55 to late ‘56, to be precise. His mates in the frontline were Kenny Dorham and Donald Byrd. Mr. Silver had an ear for exquisite and smokin’ tenorists and trumpeters.

It’s interesting to take a listen to Cook’s late career period. It could be argued that it is evidence of the man’s patient, dedicated, disciplined intensification of his hard bop tenor art. Take a listen to the Cook/Louis Hayes LP Ichi Ban, Louis Smith’s Prancin’, Bill Hardman’s What’s Up or Clifford Jordan’s Two Tenor Winner. To be sure, I do not intend to assume that Cook’s work with Silver was immature. On the contrary! However, would it be a farfetched line of thinking that Cook was balancing his act with Silver, not really a driving force of that group but instead precisely tying the knots of Silver’s intricate, blues and gospel-infested compositions? Later in life, evidently, Cook’s work gained depth and, though still very composed, is characterized by more edgy twists and turns and a delivery that hints at a heart that has been burning from all sorts of sweet or sour experiences.

I don’t think Cook is alone in this. Plenty of saxophonists that shone brightly in the classic age of hard bop but matured further into their careers. Like Clifford Jordan, Charles McPherson, Jimmy Heath, Harold Land… Wisdom comes with age. Wrinkles too, although, and perhaps you know that feeling, they’re the least of my troubles.

Elmo Hope, Homecoming!

Elmo Hope Homecoming! (Riverside 1961)

Coming home to a group of hi-level colleagues as featured on Elmo Hope’s first Riverside album Homecoming must’ve been a thrill. It certainly is an exciting session of the unique, tragically underrated pianist.

Elmo Hope, Homecoming!

Personnel

Elmo Hope (piano), Blue Mitchell (trumpet A1, A3, B2), Jimmy Heath (tenor saxophone A1, A3, B2), Frank Foster (tenor saxophone A1, A3, B2), Percy Heath (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)

Recorded

on June 22 & 29, 1961 at Bell Sound Studio, NYC

Released

as RLP 381 in 1961

Track listing

Side A:
Moe Jr.
La Berthe
Eyes So Beautiful As Yours
Homecoming
Side B:
One Mo’ Blues
A Kiss For My Love
Imagination


You are Elmo Hope. Born in New York City in 1927. Childhood pal of Bud Powell, spinning records of Johann Sebastian Bach all day long with the future giant of bebop, when soon after Thelonious Monk joins to complete the illustrious, mutually responsive threesome. As a young man, you catch a bullit from a white police officer, (sounds familiar?) in a hideous, disgraceful turn of events being trialed but ultimately released. You marry, have a son, who dies tragically young. Highly talented, working towards identical musical conclusions as Powell, Monk, Parker, yet in your own peculiar way, you miss out on the burgeoning bebop scene when Uncle Sam calls: ooh ooh ooh, you’re in the army now, from 1943 to ‘46. The following Korean War is settled half-heartedly in 1953 when you’re featured on Lou Donaldson/Clifford Brown’s New Faces New Sounds 10inch LP on Blue Note, which benefits from your excellent writing. (you’ll prove to leave a legacy of brillant compositions) You become a leader in your own right, recording the unforgettable albums Informal Jazz (Prestige 1956, with John Coltrane, Hank Mobley and Donald Byrd) and Trio And Quintet (Blue Note 1957, recordings from ’54 to ‘57) but public recognition keeps eluding you.

Then there’s the needle. Has been there all the while. Having lost your cabaret card in New York City, without which a musician is practically unemployed, you move to the West Coast. Its scene doesn’t exactly seems to meet your standards but you nonetheless record the first-class Elmo Hope Trio (HiFi 1959) and partake in a classic session with fellow expat Harold Land and trumpet enigma Dupree Bolton, the unbeatable, stunning The Fox, filled with world-class Hope tunes. It’s back to NYC in 1961, the Homecoming album is not to be sneezed at. Following albums on Riverside bear puzzling titles as High Hope (you mean, like a lot of hope or Hope’s always high or what?) and Hope-Full, a duo album with Hope’s wife Berthe. Perhaps Riverside Riverside hoped (no pun intented) that it would outsell Ella & Louis? There’s Sounds From Rikers Island on Audio Fidelity, an intriguing album including John Gilmore and Philly Joe Jones, ironically, recorded at the jail Hope did time in. You are performing regularly in NYC with, among others, John Ore and Billy Higgins. But it doesn’t seem to happen. Monk (Man, did he have to struggle against the odds) will make the cover of Time Magazine in 1964. You’ve been interviewed by Downbeat Magazine just once during the course of your career. This, somehow, inexplicably, sometimes happens…

The story of Elmo Hope, extraordinary, unique pianist, ended tellingly in 1967, age 43, in a hospital that specialised in addicts. Supposedly very unprofessionally, according to Berthe, as something went wrong and Hope died of pneumonia. Slowly but surely, the wheels of appreciation have been turning in Hope’s favor, slightly lacking behind the other ‘unknown’ piano giant, Herbie Nichols. Much too late, but slowly and surely. It is said Hope’s unpredictable style, focusing on the architecture of the composition instead of virtuosity, prevented broad public recognition. Might be. (the above-mentioned concise life story offers some possible clues) However, Monk was a puzzling personality, yet finally made the grade.

All things considered: a brilliant pianist. In Hope’s playing, an underlying sense of foreboding is almost always there. He’s a nervous type of guy but also light-footed, a bittersweet personality. His touch ruthless or tender, his timing floating like a bottle on the ocean waves, Hope’s unusually structured compositions move with a surprisingly natural flow. Homecoming finds Hope re-united with like-minded firebrands, drummer Philly Joe Jones being the ultimate burner. At the core of the session is the conversation between Philly Joe and the fellows – Jimmy Heath, Frank Foster, Blue Mitchell, Percy Heath – and Hope in particular, with four tunes consisting of the trio format. The pushing of Jones of Moe Jr.’s hi-speed changes is a treat, the way he tickles the senses of Hope with a playful torrent of rimshots – a melodic answer to Hope’s preceding questions – is the cherry on the top. Hope is close to buddy Bud here, yet as a contrast lets notes hang suspended in the air, alternating the silence with tumbling tremelos.

The trio sends the title track to the stratosphere and Philly Joe Jones drives Hope to the rail. Come on, St. Elmo, be quick, be swift, hurry home, time may await but… Hope responds, so effortlessly stretching lines over the bars, a roaring run in the upper register here, a James P. Johnson-figure with the left hand there. Yes, Philly Joe, I’m almost there… But not quite and (consciously, like Mingus, embracing shift of tempo into the bag of new means of expression?) Hope, Jones and Heath fasten the pace considerably and subsequently end with a luscious sigh. Hope takes care of the coda on his own. Peace, quietude, the road always leads…

Elmo Hope plays lines you were unlikely to come across in 1961. They pry La Berthe’s fascinating melody, which would become messy in the hands of lesser talents, running smoothly somehow via Hope’s singular route from mind to fingers. The tune asks a lot from the horn men and keeps Foster, Heath and Mitchell on their toes. A restrained use of notes by Hope benefits the melancholic Eyes So Beautiful As Yours, definitely Hope’s Crepuscule With Nellie. A somber dedication to his wife, obviously the best thing happening in Hope’s troubled life besides jazz music.

Horace Silver - Finger Poppin'

Horace Silver Finger Poppin’ (Blue Note 1959)

Horace Silver’s first album with his most celebrated line-up, Finger Poppin’, still stands tall after all these years as a penultimate example of hipness and swing.

Horace Silver - Finger Poppin'

Personnel

Horace Silver (piano), Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Junior Cook (tenor saxophone), Gene Taylor (bass), Louis Hayes (drums)

Recorded

on January 31, 1959 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 4008 in 1959

Track listing

Side A:
Finger Poppin’
Juicy Lucy
Swingin’ The Samba
Sweet Stuff
Side B:
Cookin’ At The Continental
Come On Home
You Happened My Way
Mellow D.


What else? Everybody obviously knows that feeling. I’m not talking about George Clooney’s cup of espresso but of the series of Blue Note albums that Horace Silver made in the late fifties and early sixties. Desert island stuff of such a unique blend of blues and sophistication that effortlessly produces the feeling that all other music besides Silver’s might be redundant. It’s damn perfect. Meaning, not near-perfect. Hard bop heaven. Finger Poppin’ is classic Silver. For the first time, trumpeter Blue Mitchell, tenor saxophonist Junior Cook and bassist Gene Taylor are aboard. The quite unique ensemble playing of Mitchell and Cook, who took with them a lot of experience in r&b groups, gave the already impressive compositions of Silver a buzz, especially noticable in the uptempo cooker Cookin’ In The Continental. Silver was quick to capitalise on their talents, injecting nifty shout-choruses in the tune, that effectively catapult the soloists into action.

Lots of other crafty devices set Silver’s music in full bloom, elaborate compositions which nevertheless flow naturally like mountain streams. Silver penned eight major league tunes, ranging from catchy swingers like Finger Poppin’ to the lyrical ballad Sweet Stuff. Juicy Lucy is one of the most irresistable songs around. Bluesy as hell, it features the amazing sense of taste and clarity that runs through the whole set, clarity of both song structure and solo’s. Not only the master himself tells a well-balanced tale with slightly behind-the-beat, swinging lines, dense, probing chords, a delicate use of space, Cook and Mitchell, relatively unknown musicians at that time, strike the listener as remarkable storytellers.

All this soulful comping and blowing is underscored by drummer Louis Hayes, who is one of the great masters of the hard bop era, certainly as far as reinforcing a band is concerned. Practically on his own, Hayes sets fire to Silver’s trademark Latin tune for this set, Swingin’ The Samba. The propulsive time of his ride cymbal and crisp, spot-on snare rolls hit the cookin’ tunes right out of the ballpark. Hayes had been aboard the Silver train from 1956, a remarkable stretch for the drummer, who would go on to write hard bop drum history with Cannonball Adderley and on Blue Note albums as Kenny Drew’s Undercurrent. Among many other endeavors. After 1959’s Blowin’ The Blues Away, Hayes would be followed up by Roy Brooks.

The best line-up? Every group has its assets. Cast your mind back to the original Mobley/Dorham frontline and Art Blakey groove. Or the daring, lively Henderson/Shaw contributions to Cape Verdean Blues. At any rate, as far as coherent group sound and effortless, blues-drenched swing is concerned, Silver’s group with Cook/Mitchell is unparalleled. Enough to drive you out of your mind. And if you’re not careful, your body.

Mel Rhyne

Mel Rhyne Organ-izing (Jazzland 1960)

Like a jubilant child eager to play with its long-awaited Santa Claus presents, I gave my recent purchase, Melvin Rhyne’s sought-after solo album from 1960, Organ-Izing, an immediate spin. The organist, best known for his work with guitar legend Wes Montgomery, delivers a tasteful, laid-back blowing session.

Mel Rhyne

Personnel

Melvin Rhyne (organ), Johnny Griffin (tenor saxophone), Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Gene Harris (piano), Andrew Simpkins (bass), Albert Heath (drums)

Recorded

on March 31, 1960 in NYC

Released

as as JLP 16 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Things Ain’t What They Used To Be
Blue Farouq
Side B:
Barefoot Sunday Blues
Shoo Shoo Baby


Rhyne was a native of Indianapolis, like Montgomery, who asked him to join his trio in 1959. The organist backed the groundbreaking guitarist on four splendid Riverside albums: Wes Montgomery Trio (1959), Boss Guitar (1963), Portrait Of Wes (1963) and Guitar On The Go (1959/1963). His articulate backing – Rhyne started out as a pianist – matched perfectly with Montgomery’s tasteful style, a coherent mix of melodic single lines, octaves and block chords. Rhyne’s sound on his solo album comes closest to that of the Wes Montgomery Trio album. It has that, as Dutch organist and Rhyne admirer, Arno Krijger, said to me in this interview, unique ‘plucky, percussive sound’. It’s a vibrato-less sound that enabled Rhyne to craft cleanly spun, logical, laid-back lines.

Organ-izing was released on Jazzland, a subsidiary of Riverside. The assembled crew includes two top-rate Riverside artists of the time, Johnny Griffin and Blue Mitchell: guys you can count on for a session of this kind. Griffin is his usual fast-fingered self, grounded in bebop and blues, and peppers his playing with humorous asides. Blue Mitchell stretches out ebulliently on, among others, his own attractive blues line, Blue Farouq.

The album consists of four tunes of the same medium tempo and four beat rhythm, which becomes a bit monotonous after a while. Then again, Rhyne is a mid-tempo maestro. He showed it with Montgomery, deepening considerably, for instance, the groove of Missile Blues on the Portrait Of Wes-album. Medium tempo suits his carefully crafted stories. Rhyne eschews uproaring climaxes and instead creates free-flowing endings, shying away from easy effects. He’s like a minimalist writer. But not just somebody. Rhyne’s the Raymond Carver of the Hammond B3. While reading (listening), one keeps contemplating on the enormously clever usage of deceptively simple language for maximum effect: words and sentences (notes, phrases) carved in stone for the ages.

The unusual combination of piano and organ is uncluttered, largely due to Rhyne’s understated style. Pianist Gene Harris of The Three Sounds trades choruses with Rhyne on all tunes except Shoo Shoo Baby, a feat which underscores the relaxed atmosphere of the proceedings. During such a spontaneous event, one (Harris) cutting short the evolving story of the other (Rhyne) in the mid-slow-draggin’ take on the classic riff Things Ain’t What They Used To Be is part of the charm. Unfazed, Rhyne supports a swinging Harris bit and continues with a solo that’s a lesson in soul and dynamics.

At the end of the decade, Rhyne quit the music business and moved to Wisconsin. He started recording again in the nineties and 00’s, mainly for Criss Cross. Rhyne passed away on March 5, 2013.

Lou Donaldson - Midnight Creeper

Lou Donaldson Midnight Creeper (Blue Note 1968)

Of the popular jazz funk dates alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson did in the late sixties, Midnight Creeper is one of the best. It’s a driving date involving a mellow-blowing leader among a bunch of talented sidemen that were becoming successful leaders in their own right.

Lou Donaldson - Midnight Creeper

Personnel

Lou Donaldson (alto saxophone), Blue Mitchell (trumpet), George Benson (guitar), Lonnie Smith (organ), Idris Muhammad (drums)

Recorded

on March 15, 1968 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BST 84280 in 1968

Track listing

Side A:
Midnight Creeper
Love Power
Elizabeth
Side B:
Bag Of Jewels
Dapper Dan


Veteran Donaldson, who was influenced, as many or most were, by Charlie Parker and whose cooperations with Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey and Jimmy Smith date back to the late forties and early/mid-fifties, had a good hand in picking new breed cats in his mid-sixties soul jazz and late-sixties/early seventies jazz funk heyday. To name but a few: Grant Green, Big John Patton, Ben Dixon, Charles Earland, Melvin Sparks. The group of Midnight Creeper is of similar high standard.

One only has to take a listen to Bag Of Jewels to appreciate the rapport of George Benson & Co. The artistic merit of a simple vamp like this one, written by organist Lonnie Smith, lies in the protagonists’ groove-ability. The drive of the rhythm section of drummer Idris Muhammad (formerly Leo Morris) and Lonnie Smith is tremendous. The twangy chords of George Benson add body to the bottom. Lonnie Smith is a wholesale dealer in juicy funk and enigmatic surprises. Smith, on this album, shows that he had become one of the most original organists of his time.

Following Smith, the rest of the soloists – Blue Mitchell, George Benson and Lou Donaldson – bring a lot of jazz finesse to the otherwise basic vamp. Worth mentioning are Blue Mitchell’s skilled work and buoyant style, Benson’s clever yet spicy build-up from low to high register, Muhammad’s stimulating way of announcing soloists with crackling press rolls and, finally, Donaldson’s deceptively casual, logically evolving tale.

The signature tune, Midnight Creeper, is an easy-going groove, a mellow boogaloo. The title and bounce suggest the nocturnal journey of a greasy cat, but for me that lazy gait ignites visions of old geezers in the park, scuffling around a chess board and glancing from under their Panama hats to attractive women passing by. That, of course, is one of the beauties of music, that it creates a variety of feelings.

Donaldson shines brightly on ballads, and Elisabeth is no exception. Not only does Donaldson have chops in abundance, his tone is warm and penetrating and the way Donaldson wraps his arms around the melody is breathtaking.

The funky beat of Love Power is irresistable. It has a kind of Bo Diddley twist as well. Lou Donaldson’s comments bring about a playful, calypso feeling. George Benson delivers a skilled r&b section, including bent strings and slurs. In short, the cover of Teddy Vann’s tune – recorded by The Sandpebbles in 1967 – is a spicy stew.

The album Midnight Creeper is an appetizing melting pot as well. Lou Donaldson’s commercial jazz funk albums, even if not all of them are up to par with Midnight Creeper, include classic groove tunes that, I’ve always felt, have the vital function of keeping jazz accessible for newcomers into the jazz realm. At least it worked like that for me as well as a number of teenage buddies in the mid-nineties. Donaldson reminded us of the blues and soul music we were passionately involved with. Midnight Creeper and Lou Donaldson’s other boogaloo gems spelled: wow, this is jazz as well! We’re enjoying the ‘far out’ Coltrane and Monk, but let’s get low, down & dirty for a change! Yeah, let’s just.