Walter Bishop Jr. - Speak Low

Walter Bishop Jr. Speak Low (Jazztime 1961)

Prove me wrong, but it’s hard to find a better album in the career of pianist Walter Bishop Jr. than his debut as a leader from 1961, Speak Low.

Walter Bishop Jr. - Speak Low

Personnel

Walter Bishop Jr. (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass), C.T. Hogan (drums)

Recorded

on March 14, 1961 at Bell Sound Studios, New York City

Released

as JT 002 in 1961

Track listing

Side A:
Please Send Me Someone To Love
Easy Living
Playmates
What A Difference A Day Makes
Side B:
Me And My Baby
Lorelei’s Lament
Blue Stone


It sure is rated as a classic. The Popsike website lists triple-digit transactions, climaxing in a 2016 eBay transaction of a wopping 2000 US $. Prices presumably are high because of the obscure label, early catalogue nr, (002) and scarcity of supply. May be so. The vinyl world has gone berserk. Money is what makes the world go ‘round. I do hope the buyer keeps his scraggly Chihuahua in a standing and not a sitting-and-shitting position. Might just ruin a solid investment. Speaks for itself, neither a Chihuahua, nor the vinyl copy of this album is in my possession. I’m a cat man in jazz cat’s world.

Bishop Jr, born in Sugar Hill, Harlem NYC, home to his childhood pals Sonny Rollins, Art Taylor and Kenny Drew, bebop colleague of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis from 1951 to ’54, without a cabaret card in the late fifties due to a drug bust and as a consequence banned from New York clubs, resurfaced in the early sixties with a regular trio including Jimmy Garrison and C.T. Hogan. Whilst dedicating a lot of his time to teaching in the seventies and beyond, Bishop turned in a record every year in the seventies and kept recording and performing in the New York area until his demise in 1998. Perhaps best known as a sideman, and a brilliant one at that, Bishop Jr. appeared on, among other, Charlie Parker’s With Strings, Miles Davis’ Dig and Collector’s Items, Kenny Dorham’s Quintet and Inta Something, Blakey’s Blakey and Big Band, Milt Jackson’s Meets Milt, Hank Mobley’s 2nd Message, Jackie McLean’s Capuchin Swing and Swing Swang Swingin’.

In this set of traditionals, the assets of Walter Bishop Jr. are laid out for our thorough enjoyment. Though firmly rooted in bebop, Bishop Jr. doesn’t strictly think in changes, but focuses on classy harmony as well. Throughout his carefully crafted solo’s, Bishop Jr. throws in charged cadenzas high up on the keys, sudden dissonant notes and tasteful bits of double time, occasionally ending with intricate chordal runs. It’s all there in the title track, Speak Low, listen here as well as the fast-paced Milestones (the Miles Davis composition), which also boasts Bishop’s Jr.’s precise, propulsive phrasing. Rollicking tremolos, recurring blues and stride figures reveal a genuine passion for the past. Every tune, especially the medium-tempo Alone Together, listen here tells a surprising story. He’s got a firm attack, like his mentor Bud Powell, in such a way that one often expects a key to jump merrily out of the keyboard. That’s another alluring asset of the masterful Walter Bishop Jr., who delivered a debut album that has gloriously stood the test of time.

MRL 315 front

Blue Mitchell Blue Mitchell (Mainstream 1971)

In 1970 Blue Mitchell was a trumpeter in the Ray Charles Orchestra. Nothwithstanding the fact that playing with the man who was respected among musicians in the sixties for reminding them of the roots of jazz was a valuable experience, it was a decision primarily driven by financial needs. Who could blame him? Jazz life was (is) a scuffle. In the early to mid-seventies Mitchell would continue commercial endeavors, working with the father of British blues, John Mayall, while simultaneously record for the Mainstream label. Blue Mitchell (in popular language also known as Soul Village but not catalogued as such) is his debut on Mainstream. It’s one of the better releases in Mainstream’s book, as Mitchell keeps up the energy of his career-high Riverside and Blue Note recordings of the early and mid-sixties, while adapting adequately to early seventies production methods.

MRL 315 front

Personnel

Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Jimmy Forrest (tenor sax), Walter Bishop Jr. (piano, electric piano), Larry Gales (bass), Doug Sides (drums)

Recorded

March 1971 in NYC

Released

as MRL 315 in 1971

Track listing

Side A:
Soul Village
Blues For Thelma
Queen Bee
Side B:
Are You Real
Mi Hermano


The danceable quality of Blue Mitchell is immediately apparent. Three-fifth of the repertoire is reserved for tunes that are influenced by Carribean and West-Indian rhythm. Mi Hermano, Queen Bee and Benny Golson’s Are You Real are contagious songs with big-sounding two-horn themes, in which Mitchell displays his abundant style and round tone, employing a wide spectrum of notes. By concentrating on exotic styles, Mitchell emphasizes and stays true to the lineage of Carribean influence on jazz that took off through the innovations of the bebop clique of the fourties. Mitchell feels at home in these surroundings and had recorded these types of compositions before. Fungii Mama (from The Thing To Do) is a swinging and succesful case in point.

The order of soloing is the same on all five tunes: Mitchell first, then Forrest and Walter Bishop Jr. The styles of Mitchell and Forrest blend well with one another; they’re both very lively, yet Forrest’s style is rougher and drenched in swing, as Mitchell’s style is a fair mix of bop and blues. The entrance of veteran Jimmy Forrest in Mi Hermano, who, curiously, had to be pulled out of retirement for the job in Mitchell’s group, is a real kick in the gut. Soul Village and Blues For Thelma are dynamic hard bop compositions; tension-building figures in the former’s theme and a groovy, walking bass figure in the latter’s theme give these tunes an edge. They stimulate the soloists to express themselves eloquently.

Essentially, Blue Mitchell is a hard bop recording dressed up for a new age. The sound of drums, electric bass and, occasionally, electric piano, is early seventies, but thematically Blue Mitchell belongs to the era in which the trumpeter shone brightly on many a fine session. One must admit that the alternative title of Soul Village isn’t such a bad choice after all.