In the '60s, Prestige launched its Plays for Lovers series with LPs by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and others. The concept was jazz as romantic mood music -- collections of previously released material that are dominated by ballads and emphasize a player's more lyrical side. Fantasy has long since acquired the Prestige catalog, and in the 2000s, it helped keep the Plays for Lovers concept alive -- not only with Prestige recordings, but also with recordings from the Fantasy-owned catalogs of Riverside, Contemporary, and other labels. The Blue Mitchell Plays for Lovers collection, in fact, doesn't contain a single Prestige recording; all of the material originally came out on Riverside. In 2003, the late Mitchell was an obvious choice for a Plays for Lovers release because the Clifford Brown-influenced trumpeter was, quite simply, a superb ballad player. He had no problem swinging aggressively at a fast tempo, but he was equally skillful when it came to ballads -- a fact that is obvious on Blue Mitchell Plays for Lovers, which spans 1958-1962 and finds him playing quite soulfully on "I Can't Get Started," "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," and other famous Tin Pan Alley standards. Not everything on the 61-minute CD is a ballad; Cedar Walton's "Turquoise" is a moody, dusky post-bop offering that is played at a medium tempo. The tune's appealing melody bears a slight resemblance to the standard "You Don't Know What Love Is," and even though "Turquoise" is faster than any of the other selections, it doesn't really disrupt the overall mood and ambiance -- it's a momentary diversion but not an outright disruption. Besides, the Plays for Lovers series was meant to be ballad-heavy but not ballad-exclusive; being dominated by ballads isn't the same as excluding medium-tempo material altogether. And when all is said and done, Blue Mitchell Plays for Lovers lives up its title.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson