Blue Mitchell: Step Lightly (1963) UA 1980

Selection: Cry Me A River (Arthur Hamilton)

.  .  .

Track list

A1. Mamacita (Joe Henderson) – 5:49
A2. Sweet and Lovely (Gus Arnheim, Jules Lemare, Harry Tobias) – 7:45
A3. Andrea (Roger Boykin) – 5:16
B1. Step Lightly (Henderson) – 8:32
B2 Cry Me a River (Arthur Hamilton) – 6:46
B3. Bluesville (Sonny Red) – 4:07

Artists

Blue Mitchell, trumpet; Leo Wright, alto sax; Joe Henderson, tenor sax; Herbie Hancock, piano; Gene Taylor, bass; Roy Brooks, drums; recorded Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, August 13, 1963

Music – overlooked treasures.

Blue Mitchell’s unissued debut album for Blue Note stars Joe Henderson and Herbie Hancock, plus former Dizzy Gillespie altoist Leo Wright, who give the session a polish that is hard to resist. Where else would you hear a line-up like this? The sextet gives the ensemble a richness of tone and voice, with three part harmonies from the horns. An easily overlooked gem, in the inexpensive United Artists Blue Note Classics LT Series.

The selection “Cry Me A River” immediately wraps you in a film-noir cityscape, a vibe similar to Howard Magee’s immortal Dusty Blue, Benny Golson’s  Park Avenue Petite . Plus the latin swinger Mamacita from Joe Henderson, featured on his own album The Kicker.

Vinyl: Blue Note LT-1082 United Artists, allocated catalogue BLP 4142, but  not released at the time.

Step Lightly went unissued until 1980, too late to be appreciated by Mitchell, who died the previous year, in 1979, aged only 49. Mastered by United Artists house engineer Tony Sestanovich, of whom nothing is known, but a Van Gelder recording, always top notch.  Etchings: LIT-N or L1T-N and catalogue number LT 1082 with some kind of added work process numbers, nothing very informative.

The blue/black note label is mostly earlier seventies (United Artists Inc.), blue/white note label is typical of the later seventies (United Artists Music and Records Group, after 1975), but  interchangeable, and little practical difference in sound quality between the two, which depends on the quality of the original recording and playing.

Michael Cuscuna found the original session tapes in the vaults, a Van Gelder recording unplayed for seventeen years. The session has the Englewood Cliffs Van Gelder sound from 1963. The LT Classics Series predates digital artefacts, and UA engineers understood their craft. This may have been nearing the last gasp of vinyl quality but it still has it, in spades.

Harry’s Place

Jazz paparazzi Harry M once again finds his lens pointing in the right direction, Herbie Hancock and Blue Mitchell, at the right time, 1973, Sydney Australia. Harry is a great resource of original photos from his archive, a musical time machine, who never fails to delight.

Photocredits ©Harry M

Collector’s Corner

When I first started collecting Blue Note, I looked down on these Blue Note Classic  LT issues and I was wrong. The LT Series  is a treasure trove of great recording sessions, by the best Blue Note musicians, sessions recorded by thewizard-in-black, but squeezed out of the release schedule by the commercial judgement of Alfred Lion.: one, two or only exceptionally three titles a year per leader (unless of course you are Jimmy Smith).

Many more sessions were recorded than released, and those that were released saw an average of 10 months between recording and release, so Alfred Lion could curate the winners  and juggle the release schedule .  Step Lightly misstepped, and simply fell by the wayside.

Shortly after the 1980 United Artists Classic LT Series release, UA partner in Japan, King Records, put out their own edition, GXK 8182,  graced with a more authentic “Reid Miles-like” cover, that does Blue more justice, than the ghostly shroud play-on-words LT cover. Doesn’t that express the tone?

Two versions of the title track Step Lightly are found: one on this  LT Series 1963 session, another on the Blue Mitchell title BLP 4178  The Thing To Do released in 1964.The LT session offers you the young Herbie Hancock seated at the piano, The Thing To Do title seats the young Chick Corea at the keys. Check how the two different Mitchell ensembles tackle the same composition.

To my ear, the LT edition has  an easy uplifting swing, better timing compared with the slightly mordant pace of the official Blue Note The Thing To Do release..

The “Blue Note Review” Membership/Subscription Club included a remaster of Step Lightly as one LP in its 5xLP $200 boxset  Volume 1Peace,  Love  & Fishing“, which has unfortunately for Blue Note lovers, sold out. Volume 2Spirit  &  Time”   is still  available,  which includes  Art  Blakey’s  Africaine,  and  Bobby  Hutcherson’s  Patterns.

$200 seems an expensive way to acquire two “Tone Poet”-standard remasters,  if you don’t want more from the current Blue Note roster.  Don Wass is treading a difficult pathway combining artists from the vaults with contemporary artists, in a “book club” type subscription. I’d happily buy Step Lightly simply as a Tone Poet or Blue Note Vinyl Classic, but not through “book club” membership.

Most  of  the  current BN  roster of artists   included  in  the boxset  may  or  may  not  be  to  your  taste – Gregory Porter, Terence Blanchard, Derrick Hodge, Kandace  Springs, Dr. Lonnie  Smith , but  there  was  also  an  intriguing  Wayne Shorter  title  in  there – Zero  Gravity #913.

LJC Horizon Scanning

Bumper crop of pre-order premium jazz titles scheduled for April and May this year, from Blue Note, Tone Poet, Verve, and Concord, all audiophile remasters. Sadly or rather fortunately,  I have almost all of them already, but that Mobley Curtain Call is definitely calling me, watch this space.  I’m passing on Grant Green’s Latin Bit.

Meanwhile, over at DECCA, custodians of the finest of 60’s British Jazz, my mailbox reveals  a different set of priorities. Not a spoof, though it would be a good one, today is apparently WORLD SLEEP DAY and Decca offer six albums to celebrate it..  All I can say is Decca, Wake Up! The world is bristling with superb modern jazz audiophile remasters, and Decca dish up tranquilizer-music.

Tonight I will crank up the volume, no one sleeps on World Sleep Day around here

LJC

14 thoughts on “Blue Mitchell: Step Lightly (1963) UA 1980

  1. Good to see this featured! I’ve been slowly adding the LT-series in my 4 years of jazz records collecting, and find most of them good sounding and musical treasures .. not even hating the covers.. Found this Blue Mitchell about a year ago and it stands out!

    Like

  2. I have about twenty of those late BN-LT dates, including this one, and only two are not absolutely stellar. I wonder if market saturation was the concern, but I can’t imagine not wanting the world to hear these recordings immediately. But then again, I’m not trying to run a business off of it.

    Like

    • I have this and while it’s most likely from a digital transfer, it sounds quite good. Sleeve design is an improvement over both the original and King sleeves, and in terms of manufacturing quality, is better than the Classics, but not as nice as the Tone Poets. The Blakey and Hutcherson albums in the second set are of similar sleeve quality, but the records are both AAA with mastering by Kevin Gray.

      Like

  3. Congratulations friend Andrew for your new publication. Blue Mitchell has always gone unnoticed despite his innate and undeniable talent and this wonderful album proves it. Curiously, this one is not among the most sought after albums by collectors, however it would already deserve a reissue of what are now called audiophiles. Hopefully next summer there will be a Tone Poet “Bring It Home to Me” (recently reviewed by LJC).

    Like

  4. Thanks for this post. I agree with you that the LT series has been given a bum rap. I have most of them and they hold up well, both musically and aurally. Step Lightly has always been a tune I’ve enjoyed. It has a distinct, happy feel you don’t hear often enough. Besides the two Blue Mitchell versions, the one on Bobby Hutcherson’s The Kicker (with Joe Henderson again) is excellent. There’s a later version by Louis Bellson featuring Blue Mitchell and Joe Henderson recorded it with his Big Band on the dreaded silver disc in 1996.
    As far as I know, Leo Wright never worked with Mingus. You may be thinking of Dizzy Gillespie where he worked in the early sixties. A few days before this session he was with Joe Henderson again on Johnny Coles’ Little Johnny C, but I think that’s all he did for Blue Note. By the mid-60s he was in Germany.

    Like

    • I was lazy,Bill, merely citing Wright’s Wiki entry – “He played with Charles Mingus, Booker Ervin, John Hardee, Kenny Burrell, Johnny Coles, Blue Mitchell and Dizzy Gillespie” . However his sideman entries make no mention of Mingus, so you may well be right about Wright, and I’m wrong. Gillespie was his main leader, I’ll credit him to Dizzy.

      Like

      • According to Brian Priestley’s indispensable Mingus biography, Leo Wright was on-and-off part of Mingus’ groups (e.g., during the 1959 Newport Festival and the Five Spot date in August 1962).

        Like

        • I stand corrected. Wiki could be wrong at times, but Priestly is never wrong about Mingus. I guess, since Wright never recorded with Mingus, I assumed he never played with him. Sloppy on my part.

          Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s