Red Mitchell And Friends – “What I Am” – Caprice Records CAP 21833, 54:20 [Distr. by Naxos] ***:

(Red Mitchell – bass, piano, vocals; Bosse Broberg – trumpet; Nise Sandström – tenor sax; Göran Strandberg – piano; Rune Carlsson – drums; Sture Nordin – bass)

For a period of time in the 1950s and 1960s, Red Mitchell was one of the go-to jazz bassists on the West Coast, where he played with almost everyone, was part of the Red Norvo Trio, The Gerry Mulligan Quartet and ultimately co-lead his own quintet along with tenor sax man Harold Land. For a variety of personal reasons in 1968 he moved to Sweden where he stayed for almost 25 years before returning to the US in 1992. These tracks were recorded and self-produced in Sweden in 1978 and have just been released.

Red Mitchell’s early music education was on the piano for which he took lessons for nine years, and then started playing bass in the army in 1947. Hence to feature those two talents on this album is quite understandable. However what is less compelling is his belief that somehow his singing would be of interest to the record-buying public. That might have been the case if his voice had any musically redeeming quality, notwithstanding the fact that his lyrics are sparse emotional evocations.

For example “What I Am “is filled with imagery and invocations of jazz musicians both living and dead such as:’ I hear Sonny and Trane and Dexter’. This direction continues with “The Sun And The Water” when Mitchell writes: ‘I’d like to talk to you son, about using the sun and the water’.  Hardy the stuff of traditional jazz lyrics. So if we acknowledge that Mitchell’s approach is outside the norm, and his lyrics tackle subject matter that do not easily lend themselves to the usual AABA song style, then perhaps it is immaterial that his vocal capabilities are not as important as the message conveyed.

The Red Mitchell that is the most interesting on this session is the bass player of whom pianist Roger Kellaway said: “Red was always about melody. Such beautiful solos!”  Pianist Göran Strandberg wrote “Tango Magnolia” where Red’s technique and big-toned bass are in full evidence. Vernon Duke wrote “Autumn In New York” and with trumpeter Bosse Broberg,  Red takes to the piano to demonstrate that all those early years of training were not in vain. In a live setting at a restaurant in Fasching Stockholm the Ellington standard” In A Sentimental Mood” gives the tenor saxophone of Nisse Sandström center stage, but it is Mitchell’s bass that holds the tune together with his strong note playing.

This session may have some historical interest, but there are far better offerings in the Red Mitchell discography.

TrackList: What I Am; Avsked; Talking; The Sun And The Water; Tango Magnolia; Micro-thought Number Two; Now What Are We Going To Do; You’re Me; Autumn In New York; Envy; In A Sentimental Mood; Micro-thought Number One

—Pierre Giroux