Artist: Blue Mitchell.
Title: Blue Soul.
Label and Catalogue Number: Riverside RLP 12-309.
Personnel: Blue Mitchell (trumpet); Jimmy Heath (tenor sax); Curtis Fuller (trombone); Wynton Kelly (piano); Sam Jones (bass); “Philly” Joe Jones (drums).
Side 1: Minor Vamp; The Head; The Way You Look Tonight; Park Avenue Petite; Top Shelf.
Side 2: Waverley Street; Blue Soul; Polka Dots and Moonbeams; Nica’s Dream.
Recording Date: 24, 28 and 30 September 1959 at Reeves Sound Studios, New York City, New York, USA.
On The Record
Selection: The Way You Look Tonight
There are few musicians of whom it can be said that their Riverside records are considered more collectable than their Blue Note output. One such is trumpeter Richard “Blue” Mitchell and if you can think of others, then feel free to let me know. Mono first pressings of at least two of Mitchell’s Riverside releases regularly outpace their Blue Note competition in the eBay auction stakes. Under consideration here is Blue Soul and the other obvious candidate is Blue’s Moods (RLP 12-336).
This pair of records has several points in common: firstly they both feature performances by Mitchell in a quartet setting with just a rhythm section (partially so on this record and completely so on Blue’s Moods); secondly, they share the presence of Kelly on piano and Jones on bass. Recorded less than a year apart, perhaps it’s the happy synergy between these three musicians that makes for two such satisfying and sought after collectibles? By comparison, the mono first pressing of only one of Mitchell’s Blue Note dates – The Thing To Do (BLP 4178) – seems equally treasured.
When one considers other performers like Sonny Rollins, Johnny Griffin and Kenny Dorham who have led sessions for both labels, the situation is usually reversed, so why should it be different for Mitchell?
I feel that we’ve already touched on one reason: the line-up of sidemen. If, for a blindfold listening test, you were told that you were hearing a record featuring the likes of Fuller, Mitchell, Kelly and the two Joneses, you’d most likely guess that it was a Blue Note recording. The odd man out here being the excellent Jimmy Heath who, as far as I know, never recorded for Blue Note, even as a sideman. So that’s a big tick in the personnel box.
The next factor that elevates this record is the selection of material. It’s a timeless combination of show tunes, hard bop cookers and new compositional pearls strung together on the common thread of Benny Golson’s charts. Pop music fans are wont to refer to producer George Martin as the fifth Beatle and there’s a strong case for conferring an equivalent accolade on Golson for a number of jazz records. On this occasion he is effectively the seventh member of the sextet by virtue of being credited as arranger and/or writer of four of the LP’s nine tracks. I can think of several Lee Morgan records of similar vintage where Golson’s pen also left an indelible mark.
Finally, we have the trumpeter’s own performance. This was Mitchell’s third outing as leader for Riverside and on all three occasions Orrin Keepnews had taken care to support Mitchell with some of the most talented musicians on offer in New York such as Art Blakey, Paul Chambers and Johnny Griffin in addition to those already mentioned above. This astute move seems to have had the desired cumulative effect of bolstering Mitchell’s confidence on each successive session. Moreover, Mitchell appears to have assimilated many lessons from his leader in the Horace Silver quintet. There’s a clarity of purpose about Mitchell’s management, his tone is firm and burnished and he exhibits sufficient boldness to take on three numbers as the lone horn despite the richly tempting resources placed at his disposal in the sextet setting. Even with a full front line, he isn’t afraid to offer his own version of a Silver favourite Nica’s Dream.
The bottom line is that this record isn’t one that’s likely to grab you by the throat the first time through. Rather, it’s a slower, more subtle seduction that reels in your appreciation over successive listenings. If you’re fortunate enough to encounter Blue Soul, invest time in it and your ears will be richly rewarded. But don’t just take my word for it – here’s a YouTube video of Keepnews’ reminiscences of this record:
Between The Lines
This all leads nicely to the now regular consideration of the liner notes because, as so often for Riverside, they are crafted by Keepnews. Even if Keepnews weren’t co-proprietor of the record company, his writing would be well worth your attention. The fact that he has a commercial interest in the success of Mitchell’s record adds flavour to the notes and brings context and continuity from this being the third successive Mitchell Riverside release with which Keepnews was involved.
The opening references to the advertising industry are a knowing nod to one of the unspoken purposes of liner notes and Keepnews uses this as a route to a discussion of Mitchell’s gradual (rather than seemingly “startlingly sudden”) progress as a musician. His notes reinforce my own perception of the level of confidence that lies behind Mitchell’s management and performance on this record. The inclusion of personal reminiscences (some of which are repeated in the YouTube video above) imbues the essay with veracity that reassures the reader.
And before we know it, the theme of confidence is extended as the spine for a conventional discussion of the tunes on the record and the contributing sidemen. If one passage leaves a lasting impression, it would be this: “with this recording Blue would seem to have stepped over the invisible line: he is no longer merely ‘promising’; he has arrived!”.
For Collectors Only
Both Side 1 and Side 2 have the small (92mm diameter) blue and silver Riverside “reels and microphone” labels with deep groove and the “BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS” wording without an “INC.” The label on Side 1 is ever so slightly wrinkled but that’s made up for by both labels being unblemished by spindle marks or any other imperfections. The faint deadwax hand etching on Side 1 reads “RLP 12-309 A” and it’ll come as no surprise that on Side 2 it reads “RLP 12-309 B”.
The laminated cover is in pretty good shape: there a slight wrinkle at the front top right and the rear has a promotion copy stamp but has the correct address for a first pressing cover. The only odd thing about this cover is that Sam Jones’ name is omitted from the front yet all the other musicians get a mention. Sometimes you see this happen (or a pseudonym is used) for contractual reasons but Jones wasn’t under contract to any record label other than Riverside at this time, as far I know. So I think we have to put this down as a cover designer’s oversight. Bacon – see me in the headmaster’s office after games!
For those of us interested in the statistic, this slab of vinyl weighs 158g – a commendable effort for a Riverside.
All evidence considered, this one goes down in the ledger as another fine mono first pressing added to the collection.