Canada keeps growing very good jazz musicians, especially those advanced in the art of bop. On The Witches of Redbeard, baritone and alto saxman from Kitchner, Ontario, Chris Mitchell, is joined on his second album as a leader by foremost Canadian jazz musicians, with the addition of eminent alto sax player Phil Woods, who shows up on two tracks, "The Royal Toe" and Cleet Street." The playlist is a mixture of originals and standards, the latter including bop anthem "A Night in Tunisia." The Mitchell baritone, which dominates this session, calls to mind one of the early baritone sax pioneers in turning the big horn to bop, Serge Chaloff, with a touch of another bari sax innovator, Cecil Payne. The kick-off tune "The Royal Toe" establishes Mitchell's credentials at the outset. There he and another premier tenor saxman from the North, Kirk MacDonald, are joined by Phil Woods for some excellent solo work. Woods also solos extensively on Mitchell's "Cleet Street." There's impressive soloing and ensemble work on "Alone Together," with Jerry Fuller's drums thumping out the beat. A pensive, aching Mitchell baritone dominates "Old Folks," and the group swings on MacDonald's aptly titled "The Buddy System," where bass player Neil Swainson takes off on a long solo, with Jerry Fuller striking his traps lightly behind him. Kirk MacDonald's "You See But You Don't Hear" is a raucous, freewheeling exchange between the saxes and drums; it is one of the album's superior cuts. Mitchell takes out his Cannonball Adderly-influenced alto for "You Don't Know What Love Is," with the bass providing the appropriate backdrop. The other half of that medley once more combines Mitchell's deeply toned baritone with MacDonald's tenor, and the outcome is excellent: these two simply play very well together.This album is a very satisfying session by a small group of Canada's preeminent players with a ringer from the United States added.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Nathan