Blue Mitchell Sextet / Blue Mitchell

Blue Soul

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Trumpeter Blue Mitchell left his home in Miami for a short stint in New York City, headed back to Florida, and then to Los Angeles before his brief but vital career as a jazz trumpeter ended. This sojourn identified his sound, initially branded by the warmth of the Southeast, burnished by the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple, and polished by the West Coast cool school demeanor. In 1959, as Mitchell returned to Miami, he connected with Detroit trombonist Curtis Fuller and Philadelphia tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath to form one of the most potent three-horn front lines in jazz history. Few knew how good they were until after the fact, but this recording, the third album for Mitchell as a leader, has him and his mates in full flight. Drummer Philly Joe Jones has a lot to do with the solid booster rocket-like propulsion on this primarily hard bop date, and check out his calypso variations on the second chorus of the otherwise easy blues swing and ultra melodic "Waverley Street." Credit Mitchell's street smarts and highly developed melodic inventiveness as the focal point for this definitive session. In many ways, this is a parallel album to the Miles Davis classic Kind of Blue, with subtle undertones driven by fourth-gear swing. The set kicks off with the famous "Minor Vamp," of which Fuller's original take for the Savoy label has been remixed and layered, and is heard in the acid jazz dancehalls. It's a familiar sparse line, a two-note vamp tacked onto a lithe, perky melody that needs no critique -- it's simply great! More concisely rendered hard bop follows on "The Head," not complex by any means, but filled with plenty of soul. The hardest line crops up during "Top Shelf," featuring a memorable, cutting, precise solo by Heath. Fuller and Heath lay out so you can hear in full dimension the cozy and warm persona of Mitchell on the ballad "Park Avenue Petite," but especially on the bright, easy swinger "Blue Soul," which most accurately approaches Kind of Blue. In tribute to his then-boss, Horace Silver, "Nica's Dream" features Mitchell's muted trumpet over an underlying fresh bed of trombone and tenor sax. Even more so, Mitchell's deep blue horn shines on the standard "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," an organ of sheer beauty and one to be studied for those who need to learn that playing fewer notes more musically is an admirable quality. This is one of the most precious jazz recordings of a year that would soon give sway to the Blue Note sound, and is in many real and important ways as much of a prelude as any other statement. It's a must-have for all serious mainstream jazz fans.

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