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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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STEVE LACY

The Complete Whitey Mitchell Sessions

American Jazz Classics 99034

 

 


1. It Could Happen To You
2. Lover Man
3. Strike Up The Band
4. I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart
5. Once In A While
6. Young Lesley
7. You Stepped Out Of A Dream
8. Over The Rainbow
9. Perdido
10. Why Don't You Take Up the Piccolo?
11. Rosetta
12. Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You
13. Out Of Nowhere
14. My Heart Is A Hobo
15. Fidgety Feet
16. Potatoes
17. Let's Get Lost
18. Spain
19. The Things I Love
20. Some Of These Days
21. Give Me The Simple Life
22. Indian Blanket

Steve Lacy - Soprano sax
Whitey Mitchell - Bass
Tom Stewart - Tenor horn
Don Stratton - Trumpet (tracks 1-10)
Joe Puma - Guitar (tracks 1-10, 17-22)
Osie Johnson - Drums (tracks 1-10)
Dave McKenna - Piano (tracks 11-16)
Al Levitt - Drums (tracks 11-17)
Herbie Mann - Alto flute, tenor sax (tracks 17-22)
Bill Bradley - Drums (tracks 18-20)
Herb Wasserman - Drums (tracks 21, 22)

 

Steve Lacy has generally been associated with avant-garde jazz from the time he played in a quartet with Cecil Taylor in the 1950s. Yet he had previously played more traditional jazz with the likes of Rex Stewart and Henry "Red" Allen, and this album shows him firmly in the mainstream idiom. It comprises two whole LPs he recorded in 1956 under the leadership of bassist Whitey Mitchell (brother of bassist Red Mitchell) and tenor-horn player Tom Stewart.

The first ten tracks are by the Whitey Mitchell sextet, using arrangements by Neal Hefti. The repertoiire consists mainly of jazz standards, although two tracks are compositions by Whitey Mitchell (Young Lesley and Why Don't Yoiu Take Up ther Piccolo?). Right from the first track, you can hear how Neal Hefti uses the line-up to the best advantage, with Tom Stewart's unusual tenor horn and trumpeter Don Stratton sounding remarkably like a West Coast musician such as Shorty Rogers. But naturally one listens out especially for Steve Lacy and marvels at the smooth tone he extracts from the often difficult soprano saxophone. He sounds entirely at home in a standard like It Could Happen To You, both in the theme statement and in his solo.

This being the period when recordings were still following the habit of the three-minute 78rpm disc, most of the tracks on this CD are around the three-minutes mark, but this makes for concision while still alowing most members of each group to play a chorus. Hefti's arrangements turn a number like You Stepped Out of A Dream into virtually a new tune. Whitey Mitchell's double bass gets quite a lot of exposure (he even states part of the themes for I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart and Over the Rainbow) but, after all, he led the session.

The arranger for the remaining twelve tracks is not named but the tight arrangements continue. Sadly, talented pianist Dave McKenna doesn't get many solos, although he plays a neat one on Potatoes. Herbie Mann is added for the last six tracks - playing not only his familiar flute but tenor sax. His flute solo on Some of These Days is particularly noteworthy. But the listener's attention will constantly be drawn to Steve Lacy, blending perfectly with the other musicians and soloing on the soprano sax without any of those intonation problems which can bedevil those who play this instrument. On Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You, he soars like some angelic being.

If you thought that Steve Lacy was simply a way-out noise merchant, this album will make you think again. But it is also worth hearing for the high standard of the ensembles, which ensure continuous pleasurable listening.

Tony Augarde
www.augardebooks.co.uk



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