Tune: Too Much Sake
Recorded: 14 July, 1962 in New Jersey
- Blue Mitchell- Trumpet
- Junior Cook- Tenor Sax
- Horace Silver- Piano
- Gene Taylor- Bass
- John Harris Jr.- Drums
Look out world- here’s my first post featuring a Blue Note album! An original (ish) at that? That’s right, and it was within my college student budget. Dreams really do come true. This is one of my favorite Horace Silver albums and one of those albums where each tune is perfect and cohesive. At first glance, one wonders why Horace Silver included Latin rhythms in an album dedicated to Japan. Silver thought you’d wonder. In the liner notes, Silver talks about how the Japanese really liked those Latin tunes, so he put them on the album. Now that’s a genuine way to dedicate an album.
The Latin rhythms work, as they almost always do when Silver’s groups explored them. This jaunty track opens the first side, and makes way for some good blowing all around. Silver’s tune (all originals except for ‘Cherry Blossom’) is structurally simple, with an infectious bass line that makes everything streamlined and breezy. Junior Cook’s sax occasionally channels Hank Mobley’s smooth tone, and Blue Mitchell is in fine form as well. Silver blows some nice piano himself, even managing to make a racial reference to camp towns sound like the most un-cheesy thing in the world. Doodah! Apparently, Silver’s normal drummer was sick, so John Harris stepped in for the studio date and rose to the occasion. His Latin rhythms on the drums give life to the proceedings, and the final tune when they go into straight jazz, his jazz chops are prominently on display.
Allmusic’s review was warm enough, with a particularly amusing line that “[t]he bottom line is that The Tokyo Blues emerges as a fairly typical Silver set from the era and not as a grandiose fusion experiment welding hard bop to Japanese melodies. That might have been interesting…” They gave the album four stars, though, which is pretty high for them. It’s great, head-bobbing music, as most of Horace Silver’s output in the 1950’s and 60’s tended to be.
Unlike many themed albums from that time, Horace Silver, photographer Francis Wolff, and the graphic designer Reid Miles decided to make a culturally sensitive cover, with two actual Geisha girls in what looks like a Japanese garden. Silver left the gimmicks alone, dressing in a typical suit, letting the women do the job of establishing the Japanese vibe for him. For that, I give the cover a solid A. Cool fact: Sitting on his left, our right, is Mako Idemitsu, the daughter of the man who founded what is now the second largest petroleum refinery in Japan. She was a student at Columbia University when this cover was taken.
The person who glued the back of this album on obviously had too much sake. Or gin. It’s very crooked, which led to the paper getting creased, which led to me taping it back. Yikes. A solid set of liner notes by Atsuhiko Kawabata, who I admit knowing nothing about. Co-founder Francis Wolff’s famous photography graces the back of the album. The record came with a sleeve that celebrates “27 Years Blue Note”, 1939-1966. 27 years is an awful odd year to have an anniversary. According to London Jazz Collector’s fantastic site, this album is an ‘original’, but not a first pressing. It was originally released in 1962, but based off of the inner sleeve, this particular record was released in late 1965 or early 1966. So is it a second pressing, a third pressing? Personally, while it’s neat to know those types of things, the fact that it was pressed before Blue Note was sold to Liberty in 1967 is cool enough for me. It’s an original in that sense, and that’s good enough for me!
Classic blue and white labels from the mid-60’s, with ‘New York’ on the labels, non-deep groove. The Plastylite ‘ear’ is in the runnout on both sides, as is ‘VanGelder’ and ‘STEREO’, both stamped into the runnout wax on both sides, indicating that this is a pre-1967 pressing, when the great Rudy Van Gelder was still overseeing the mastering process. This record has the famous Van Gelder sound that defined Blue Note for years, with a relatively early example of his stereo mixing skills. The trumpet is all the way at the left by himself, the sax and drums on the right, and Silver’s piano with the bassist firmly in the middle of the mix. Why poor Mitchell is on the left channel by his lonesome, I don’t know. Maybe he was late to the recording session and was put there as punishment?
The Place of Acquisition
This wasn’t my first Blue Note record, but it’s the only Blue Note so far that I got from eBay, and via an auction at that. Somebody was auctioning quite a few jazz records off, including numerous Blue Notes, so I figured I’d try and see what I could get. When I put my bids in, the price was 99 cents. I ended up bidding for five records, including two Horace Silver albums, two Dexter Gordons, and one Miles Davis. I lost most of the bids, winning only this album and a Miles Davis album (which I already profiled). With shipping, both albums ran me about $40, which was fantastic to me. I still can’t believe I won an authentic (ish) Blue Note on eBay, but I won’t be putting in any more bids on Blue Notes until I graduate and have a job.