A perfect blend of sweet and sour…
Blue Mitchell & Sonny Red – Baltimore 1966 – Uptown UPCD.83, 70:52 ****:
(Blue Mitchell- trumpet; Sonny Red- alto sax; John Hicks- piano; Gene Taylor- bass; Joe Chambers- drums)
For lovers of straight-ahead jazz and hard bop in particular, Uptown Records has continued to release superb live sessions based out of Baltimore from the 1960s through the 70s. These were Sunday afternoon concerts put on by the Left Bank Jazz Society. Due to the fact that the sessions were on Sunday afternoons and not too far away from New York City, the Society could bring in the best talent and first rate backing musicians. Recorded sound quality could be a bit “iffy” but many of the Uptown issued Left Bank dates feature a nicely mixed full sound stage.
Such is the case with the new Blue Mitchell/Sonny Red quintet recording from March 20, 1966. (We typically hear Mitchell backed by Junior Cook, former mates with one of Horace Silver’s best hard bop aggregations.) Blue is noted for his warm, lyrical tone that is fully expressed on ballads. Sonny Red was a bop-oriented alto saxist who had a relatively short career, passing away in 1981, and peaking in the early 60s when he recorded for Blue Note and Jazzland. Sonny’s tone was astringent, perfect for bop blowing. The two co-leaders blend well here with Red giving a nice “edge” to Mitchell’s sweetness. Each of the six tunes are well explored as they average over ten minutes each.
They open with the standard, “If I Should Lose You.” Blue and Sonny have several choruses each, setting a relaxed groove. The veteran rhythm section of John Hicks, Gene Taylor, and Joe Chambers ably comp with the two horns trading off leads. Red becomes quite animated digging in as the tune progresses. The microphones clearly favor the front line so when John Hick’s solos, his piano becomes a bit distant. Gene Taylor on bass steps in late on the track. Jimmy Heath’s spirited “All Members” follows and is a great number for the horns to tear into. Mitchell effortlessly glides over the changes clearly relishing this hard bop staple.
“Fungi Mama” is one of Mitchell’s most well known compositions. It has a Caribbean vibe and is clearly in Blue’s wheelhouse. Red is spot on here as well, as his higher range alto soloing adds a dimension that a tenor sax doesn’t provide. An improvised “Blue Spring Variation” takes Kenny Dorham’s “Blue Spring” into a medium shuffle blues tempo with escalating emotion. The Gershwin/Duke standard, “I Can’t Get Started” is given a passionate reading by Sonny Red, with Mitchell and Hicks having contributing solos as well. The session ends with “A Portrait of Jenny” and Blue simply is sublime on this ballad. His rich welcoming tone is like a warm hug – deeply satisfying.
Hard bop fans will find plenty to like here. The combo of Mitchell and Red is a sweet and sour dish that both tingles and leaves a warm glow in its wake.
TrackList: If I Should Lose You, All Members, Fungi Mama, Blue Spring Variation, I Can’t Get Started, A Portrait of Jenny