Billy Mitchell - This Is Billy Mitchell

Billy Mitchell This Is Billy Mitchell (Smash 1962)

It is, indeed, tenor saxophonist Billy Mitchell, delivering a mellow mainstream album with more than a few surprises.

Billy Mitchell - This Is Billy Mitchell

Personnel

Billy Mitchell (tenor saxophone), Dave Burns (trumpet A3, A4, B1, B2, B4), Billy Wallace (piano A3, A4, B1, B2, B4), Bobby Hutcherson (vibraphone), Clarence “Sleepy” Anderson (organ A3, B1, B2, B4), Herman Wright (bass), Otis “Candy” Finch (drums)

Recorded

on October 29 & 30, 1962 at Universal Studios, Chicago, Illinois

Released

as MGS 27027 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
J&B
Sophisticated Lady
You Turned The Tables On Me
Passionova
Side B:
Tamra
Automation
Just Waiting
Siam


The tenor saxophone is a special cat. Essential jazz instrument since the introduction of its potential by Coleman Hawkins, extension of the body of popular honking men like Big Jay McNeely, fulfilling the attractive role that would later only be surpassed by the guitar in rock & roll. Very saxy… The tenor sax is the woman with guts, Lauren Bacall firing one-liners, high ball leaning in her lean fingers, it’s the woman with curves, Raquel Welch bursting from the screen, half-naked and whip in hand… It’s the boy in the hood, dunking day and night on the square, and it’s Killer Joe, stepping from the board of his Cadillac, right in front of Birdland… The burning of rubber on a dirt road. Biceps and beer belch all in one. And smoke, don’t forget the smoke…

The tenor saxophone gels particularly well with the toms and ride cymbal of the drums, the middle register of the piano. Its sound burst out of the big bands and plays a pivotal role in the small ensemble setting of the 50s and beyond. It was the chosen instrument for many of the burgeoning reed men that followed the bright light of alto saxophonist Charlie Parker. In the slipstream of the giants – Hawkins, Lester Young, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane – a slew of great stylists emerged. A sample of last year’s review pages of Flophouse Magazine reveals the names of tenor saxophonists Cannonball Adderley, Jerome Richardson, Hank Mobley, Johnny Griffin, Eddie Chamblee, Oliver Nelson, Jimmy Forrest, King Curtis, Clarence Wheeler, Buddy Terry, Harold Land, Wayne Shorter and Hank Bagby. Suits all mainstream jazz tastes!

And now Billy Mitchell: dark horse coming in from the stretch, a thoroughbred bound for a solid run on the racetrack of Flophouse, place your bets, keep your eye on the tote board, 9 to 2 shot, there he comes, there he comes… run! goddamit! run!… bingo. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, across the border line from Charlie Parker – who saw the light in Kansas City, Kansas – raised in Detroit, city of countless outstanding jazz artists, Mitchell apprenticed at the Blue Bird Inn, sharing the stage with incoming modernists like Miles Davis. He was a long-time member of the Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie big bands. Mitchell maintained a special relationship with trombonist Al Grey, with whom the bop-oriented tenorist released a number of albums in the early 60s.

Bonafide leadership dates were scarce. Snap Your Fingers on Argo was the first in 1962, This Is Billy Mitchell followed soon after that year and A Little Juicy was the final solo album by Mitchell featuring Thad Jones in the sixties – 1964. Both albums were released on Smash, subsidiary of Mercury Records. His next record came out in 1977. For reasons unknown, Mitchell dropped out of the scene in the 80s, coming out of hiding only occasionally, for instance with singer Deborah Brown and Rein de Graaff Trio during Vervolg Cursus Bebop in The Netherlands in 1991, the legendary series of lectures and performances with American legends and unsung heroes that was organized by pianist Rein de Graaff. The face of death finally appeared in Mitchell’s rear view mirror in 2001.

And now This Is Billy Mitchell: epic sleeve, smoke, pockmarked face of ruminative jazz man, graceful lettering that says… Mitchell is the most exciting tenor sax in jazz… Well, hyperbole reared its ugly head… Nonetheless, Mitchell is a real good’n, offering mellow mainstream jazz, a warm, full-bodied tone and smooth phrasing that keeps us fairly hypnotized in our easy chair. Mitchell fluently embeds the weathered artistry of the great swing tenor men in his background of bebop. He carries his original composition J&B, a smooth, smoky song that bounces merrily behind Mitchell’s relaxed but imposing, big-sounding phrases, Buddy Tate-ish, Jimmy Forrest-ish, you name it. Simply wonderful.

A similar swing era-smoothness instills the mid-tempo You Turned The Tables On Me and the ballad Sophisticated Lady, once a showcase for Harry Carney’s pioneering, booming baritone sax and a demonstration of skilled artistry by Mitchell here, whose proficiency provides wholehearted support for understated drama and imaginative, fully articulated ideas: the mark of a great jazz man. Boppish swing infuses a surprising set of rarely performed compositions: Gene Kee’s Siam, Melba Liston’s Just Waiting, John Hines’s Passionova. Automation is an original composition by trumpeter Dave Burns, the album’s most furious affair.

Obviously, the unusual sound palette of This Is Billy Mitchell is a big part of the attraction. Piano by Billy Wallace, the Wild Bill Davis-type organ injections and unobtrusive background of Clarence “Sleepy” Anderson, the ringing, balanced notes and tones of early-career Bobby Hutcherson all together now for 1/3 part of the album. The sprightly and pesky trumpet of Dave Burns and husky tenor of Billy Mitchell tiptoeing on the easygoing bounce of bassist Herman Wright and drummer Otis “Candy” Finch. The variety of piano/vibraphone, vibraphone/piano. It somehow works, a meshing that serves as the backdrop to very enjoyable tenor playing by Billy Mitchell.

Bobby Hutcherson - The Kicker

Bobby Hutcherson The Kicker (Blue Note 1963/99)

It can only be attributed to the risk of market overflow that Blue Note didn’t release vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson’s de jure debut album The Kicker in 1964, a superb date including Joe Henderson, Duke Pearson and Grant Green.

Bobby Hutcherson - The Kicker

Personnel

Bobby Hutcherson (vibraphone), Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone), Grant Green (guitar B1-3), Duke Pearson (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Joe Chambers (drums)

Recorded

on December 29, 1963 at Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

BST 21437 in 1999

Track listing

Side A:
If Ever I Would Leave You
Mirrors
For Duke P.
Side B:
The Kicker
Step Lightly
Bedouin


HHutcherson & Henderson. Sounds like the misfits of the insurance business have joined forces in a run-down office on the outskirts of town. But the late Bobby Hutcherson and Joe Henderson are regarded as towering figures of mainstream and avant-leaning jazz now, and as burgeoning class acts back then at the tail end of 1963, when they were really hitting their stride. Hutcherson had built a reputation first on the West Coast, subsequently in NYC, he had played on front-line beauties as Jackie McLean’s One Step Beyond and Grachan Monchur’s Evolution. Henderson had recorded two albums as a leader, Page One and Our Thing. The Kicker was left on the shelves, seeing release as late as 1999. It is puzzling why Lion and the Wolff decided against release. They probably figured they had enough quality sessions to promote. Perhaps Joe Henderson was the kind of perfectionist disgruntled by the rough edges around a phrase or two. It doesn’t have to perfect, Joe. Coming with your package of supple, soaring post bop, we just might come to like that extra bite.

Regardless, there’s a pairing of talent attuned to each other’s needs and shining brightly during a set of original compositions and one standard, a sprightly mid-tempo take of Lerner and Loewe’s If Ever I Would Leave You. The crystalline, ringing vibes of the versatile modernist Bobby Hutcherson. Joe Henderson, already a strong-willed counterpart of a yes-man. Duke Pearson, inspiring accompanist, weaver of mellifluous lines. Grant Green, featured on side B’s three tracks, the prolific in-house guitarist of the Blue Note label, a class act in both hardboppin’ and modal contexts. Around that time, November 4 and 15 to be exact, 1963, Green, Henderson, Pearson and bassist Bob Cranshaw had cooperated on one of Grant Green’s career highs, Idle Moments. The mutual understanding is evident.

Hutcherson was a major contributor to Eric Dolphy’s free jazz classic Out To Lunch on February 5, 1964. He would venture into more front-line territories soon, recording his de facto debut Dialogue, and subsequently, the avant-garde LP side of Joe Chambers tunes on Components and the Happenings album with Herbie Hancock in 1965. A travel into uncharted territory. A balancing act of simplicity of expression and complex context. New vistas for vibraphonists ever since, the guys spellbound by Hutcherson’s siren-like cadenzas, the move into dark-hued corners of the mind, the zing of his angelic sound.

Already apparent on The Kicker is Hutcherson’s alert ear for group dynamics and controlled, conversationalist approach to the development of his expertly meandering lines. The great mood piece by Joe Chambers, Mirrors, suits Hutcherson to a tee. Throughout the set, which also consists of Henderson’s The Kicker and Step Lightly, Hutcherson’s For Duke P. and Pearson’s Bedouin, the rhythm section flawlessly and in uplifting fashion underscores Hutcherson’s vibe abacadabra and Henderson’s playful imagery. Henderson’s notes form fine-tuned blue and odd clusters, placed with a keen, floating sense of timing.

Though the title track, The Kicker, doesn’t thrive on the background riffs that propel the soloists into action as convincing as the classic take of Horace Silver on the Song For My Father album (including Henderson) and Henderson’s own version in 1967, it is a smokin’ affair, benefiting from the addition of Green in the ensemble and the guitarist’s propulsive, vivacious statements. Perhaps the moving, succulent phrases of Hutcherson and Henderson during Step Lightly should be attributed to the presence of Green, blues master at heart.

Surely Dialogue made up for a more distinct debut. But The Kicker remains a winner, having earned its rightful place among the hard bop cookies that rolled off the assembly line of the Blue Note label in the early sixties.

Grant Green - Street Of Dreams

Grant Green Street Of Dreams (Blue Note 1964)

I can’t get enough of Grant Green’s opening tune I Wish You Love from the guitarist’s mid-career album Street Of Dreams. It’s the epitome of Green’s ethereal qualities and works on an emotionally soothing level only true masters can bring about.

Grant Green - Street Of Dreams

Personnel

Grant Green (guitar), Larry Young (organ), Bobby Hutcherson (vibes), Elvin Jones (drums)

Recorded

on November 16, 1964 at Van Gelder Studios in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 4253 in 1965

Track listing

Side A:
I Wish You Love
Lazy Afternoon
Side B:
Street Of Dreams
Somewhere In The Night


Mid-career? Indeed, I define the album as such. Although Green recorded until his death in 1979, it’s fair to say that the seventies were disappointing for Green and that the relevant part of his career runs from his start in 1960 to the beginning of the following decade. Moreover, Green practically lived in the studio in the early sixties, mostly as solo and staff guitarist for Blue Note. Nobody did so much sessions for the famous label as Green, and certainly not between 1960 and 1965. Hence said stipulation that Street Of Dreams is a mid-career effort.

During that period, Green had struck up a fruitful recording relationship with organist Larry Young and drummer Elvin Jones. Elvin Jones is on a string of Grant Green albums, among them Matador. Naturally, Jones took part in recording Larry Young’s masterpiece Unity. The trio furthermore cooperate on a couple of ace Blue Note albums: Grant Green’s Talkin’ About and I Want To Hold Your Hand and Larry Young’s Into Something.

Street Of Dreams certainly is an ace album as well and evidence of how well the famed members of this group – augmented to a quartet by vibrafonist Bobby Hutcherson, who played on essential Green album Idle Moments – respond to eachother. Street Of Dreams and Somewhere In The Night are easygoing swingers including fluid solo’s by Green and Young, but the standout tracks are to be found on side A. Lazy Afternoon is a slow, mellow standard which charm lies in the combination between its harmonic subtleties and Green’s blues-infused playing style.

Both Lazy Afternoon and I Wish You Love benefit from the polyrhythmic finesse and tension-building of one-man band Elvin Jones, Larry Young’s economical, full-bodied backing and adventurous phrases and Hutcherson’s moody embellishments. In front of this crackerjack trio, Grant Green reaches bittersweet heights in I Wish You Love, which originally was a chanson from French singer Charles Trenet. There is so much to enjoy: a deceptively simple, patiently executed, beautiful melody and a memorable solo that constitutes nearly five minutes of sheer beauty. Then there’s that delicious sustain of Green’s Gibson guitar that must surely do an ‘embraceable you’ to you too. Green’s stately delivery of I Wish You Love never fails to bring me into a sweet and sour, ephemereal state of mind.

Street Of Dreams is a carefully constructed affair. From the front cover – an apt picture and illustration by Reid Miles of the intersection Grant Avenue & Green Street in San Francisco – via repertoire and titles to Green’s performance, it’s obvious that the album’s target is a soft spot in the heart. It certainly hits home. As one of many top class albums in Green’s book, I think Street Of Dreams will satisfy jazz fans that are charmed by the guitarist’s better known Idle Moments.

Jackie McLean - Destination Out!

Jackie McLean Destination… Out! (Blue Note 1963)

Nowadays, in a download, post-LP and virtually post-CD world, the order of album tracks has become devoid of meaning. Toying with eternal ‘favorite’ playlists is cool. but track order was an important factor defining the succes and artistry of an album. Clearly, what would’ve made stand-out alto saxophonist Jackie McLean’s progressive album Destination… Out! more significant than it already is, is a reversal of the opening tune, the telling, macabre mood piece Love And Hate, with the album’s up-tempo winner Esoteric.

Jackie McLean - Destination Out!

Personnel

Jackie McLean (alto saxophone), Grachan Monchur III (trombone), Bobby Hutcherson (vibes), Larry Ridley (bass), Roy Haynes (drums)

Recorded

on September 20, 1963 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NYC

Released

as BLP 4165 in 1963

Track listing

Side A:
Love And Hate
Esoteric
Side B:
Kahlil The Prophet
Riff Raff


Esoteric is an intriguing piece that pushes the group to put its best foot forward. With the bulk of it consisting of short, stabbing breaks, solo space included, the group balances on a tight rope. Only experienced, smart and original cats are able to pull off such a thing and this group succeeds convincingly. Jackie McLean incorporates piercing, passionate hard-bop phrases into a characteristic modal structure.

Veteran and innovative drum legend Roy Haynes, who dates back to the era of Charlie Parker and was well-versed in swing as well as avantgarde, and who played on a staggering number of high-profile recordings, responds well to the ‘new thing’ trombonist and composer of three tunes out of four, Grachan Monchur III sets up. Haynes (nicknamed ‘Snap Crackle’) fervently includes a wealth of his trademark crisp snare rolls and demonstrates his mastery of the cymbal.

After writing as prolifically as Monchur III did during that period, it was inevitable that the trombonist found himself amidst avantgarde royalty and was given the chance to record as a leader. Monchur III’s Evolution, with both Jackie McLean and Bobby Hutcherson in tow, was recorded two months after Destination… Out! and is nowadays regarded as a royal achievement in its own right. His improvisations on the trombone on McLean’s album are uncommingly swift.

If the title of Esoteric gives you a clue to what kind of feeling this group likes to convey, McLean’s sole original Khalil The Prophet decidedly puts a lid on that puzzle. Although I, personally, regard writer and thinker Khalil Gibran, of which McLean apparantly, as well as millions of others, has been under the spell of, as a charlatan spouting nothing but quite infantile, easily digestible, pseudo-wise clichés, (what we Dutch commonly say, ‘selling fried air’) the result of that particular inspiration, I gladly admit, is pleasantly ethereal. The group sound, a peculiar and original mix of instrumentation, is lithe, conveying a buzz in the head of the listener on par with the joy of spring or lover’s goosebumps, whichever direction your senses’ antennae are pointing at.

The direction Jackie McLean took in the early sixties – mixing hard bop with modality – placed him squarely in the front line department of Blue Note as one of the major forces behind that label’s much admired stretch of hip-to-the-tip releases.

MRL314-autoxauto

Harold Land A New Shade Of Blue (Mainstream 1971)

For those who came out of the sixties bruised and/or (almost) out of work, and without the stardom attached to fusionytes as Miles, Headhunters and Weather Report, for a period Bob Shad’s Mainstream Records was a shelter of sorts. For a big part, Mainstream concentrated on re-issuing a hodge podge of fifties material. But its 300 series involved recordings of (either as leader or sideman) household names as Blue Mitchell, Roy Haynes, Art Farmer, Billy Higgins, Cedar Walton and Curtis Fuller.

MRL314-autoxauto

Personnel

Harold Land (tenor sax), Bobby Hutcherson (vibraphone), Bill Henderson (piano, electric piano) Buster Williams (bass), Billy Hart (drums), Mtume (congas)

Recorded

in 1971

Released

as MRL 314 in 1971

Track listing

Side A
Side A:
A New Shade Of Blue
Mtume
Side B:
Ode To Angela
De-liberation
Short Subject


And Harold Land. It is fairly obvious where he came from. One only has to take a listen to De-liberation, a fast-paced bop piece in which Land fluently flies through the changes, to be reminded of a late fifties winner such as The Fox.

Musically, Land and co-operator Bobby Hutcherson – who together made a series of acclaimed records on Blue Note in the late sixties – certainly weren’t out of fashion. Contrary to many who dabbled in adventurous jazz, they relied on skill and feeling to bring about a kind of avantgarde hardbop. It’s not wholly satisfying (read: a bit longwinded, a tad lame production-wise) but competent.

Side A is particularly wide-ranging. Arguably, Wayne Shorter’s methods cast their shadows on A New Shade Of Blue; Mtume is part Spanish part world music. A large part of the album has Buster Williams’ intricate bass playing grabbing attention; in general, the two authoritative voices of Land and Hutcherson, plus an artful gatefold cover, certainly make A New Shade Of Blue worth buying.

YouTube: A New Shade Of Blue