Junior Mance ‘Trio’ 2CD (American Jazz Classics) 4/5

junior-mance-trioNot dissimilar to the late great Gene Harris, Chicago born Junior Mance belonged to a generation of pianists that were steeped in the blues and for this group blues and jazz formed an umbilical chord. Others included Bobby Timmons and Ramsey Lewis, the latter of whom has enjoyed success in the UK on the northern soul circuit. Mance served in his formative years as a sideman throughout the 1950s, firstly as a Chicago house pianist between 1953 and 1954 at the famous Bee Hive club, then for Cannonball Adderly (1956-1957), and then briefly with Dinah Washington before a slightly longer sojourn with the Dizzy Gillespie band between 1958 and 1960. The three albums neatly squeezed into this new two CD set cover the piano trios that Junior Mance fronted between the relatively short period of 1961 and 1962 for the Jazzland and Riverside labels and are hard to find in their original vinyl format. In recent years there has suddenly been a plethora of re-issues from Mance’s classic trio period and there is some overlap between them. Both Avid and Fresh Sound brought out collections of albums worthy of attention and usefully add to the Mance discography. However, the new AJC re-issue does offer some hitherto hard to find albums at a fraction of their collectable price and these date from the outset of Mance’s career when heading a piano trio formation. Ideally, one would have liked at least one example of Junior Mance in a complete live recorded setting and it is regrettable that the ‘Trio at the Village Vanguard’ album was not included here and that is a truly definitive example of Mance’s craft. In fairness, AJC have instead opted to offer a live trio broadcast from the radio in 1961 that enables the listener to hear and compare four live number interpretations recorded elsewhere on the three studio albums. That said, there is much to compensate the listener this time round, not least the wonderful recording ‘Junior’s Blues’, the tile of which typifies the cross-fertilisation of blues and jazz on offer. Morevoer, Mance is equally adept at covering classics of the calibre of ‘Blue Monk’ or Ellington’s ‘Creole Love Call’ as well as his own compositions and this is unquestionably a major highlight and reason in itself to purchase. Only marginally less enticing is the excellent ‘Big Chief’ recording with delightful takes on evergreen tunes such as ‘Summertime’, ‘Love for sale’ and Monk’s ‘Ruby my dear’, while ‘Happy Time’ continues the blues-inflected message with a lovely rendition of Clark Terry’s ‘The simple waltz’ and a rousing Latin jazz take on ‘Tin Tin Deo’. The trios oscillate in membership, but include the likes of Ron Carter and Bob Cranshaw on bass and Micky Roker on drums. The latter two musicians would be stalwarts of the Blue Note label in the mid-late 1960s. Junior Mance would record consistently throughout the 1980s and 1990s, particularly in Japan where he remains especially popular, and at the venerable age of seventy-two made his debut performing solo piano at the Lincoln Center in New York. This re-issue is significant in that it showcases the historically vitally important connection between jazz and blues and, sadly, there are precious few of this generation still alive today.

Tim Stenhouse