Cecil McBee ‘Mutima’ 180g Vinyl (Pure Pleasure) 4/5

This early important work from composer/bassist extraordinaire Cecil McBee enjoys a welcome reissue via the Pure Pleasure record label. Recorded in 1974 on the independent New York based Strata-East label, ‘Mutima’ is Cecil McBee’s debut album as a leader, following a series of collaborations with Pharaoh Sanders during the early 1970s.

In the early 1960s Cecil McBee joined a stellar line of bassists who had worked with Paul Winter’s ensemble who had included Richard Evans and Chuck Israels. This appointment seemed an important precursor to what was to follow. A move to New York in the mid-1960s allowed for many important collaborations alongside such luminaries as Wayne Shorter, Jackie McLean, Andrew Hill, and Sam Rivers. Within a short space of time, Cecil McBee had become one of the most in-demand bassists amongst the new wave of jazz that was pushing the boundaries and stretching compositional approach.
Cecil McBee has since been an ambassador for jazz, receiving a Grammy for the 1988 recorded ‘Blues For Coltrane’ within the group that featured Pharoah Sanders, David Murray, McCoy Tyner, and Roy Haynes. Check ‘Naima’ from the album as an example of why the album received this prestigious award.

The compositional weight throughout ‘Mutima’ is a delight to hear, balancing improvisation and melody with a rich journey of musical excellence from the heavyweight musicians who have joined McBee for this album. Each of the six compositions were written by composer/bassist Cecil McBee. It’s a fantastic lineup of musicians, with many having worked alongside artists including Pharoah Sanders, Roy Ayers, Norman Connors, Lonnie Liston Smith, Billy Parker’s Fourth World and Roland Kirk.

The album starts off with the 11-minute ‘From Within’, a solo performance exploring within the bass sounds. A deep reflective piece, probing improvisational composition with the leader using the two acoustic basses almost like an echo, soul searching and classically leaning. Each moment of sound that travels through Cecil McBee’s instrument on this solo reminded me of the effects that Max Roach’s solo track ‘The Drum Also Waltzes’ imbued with its emphasis on each moment of sound.

‘Voice Of The 7th Angel’ is a short piece that opens up with the rich textures of the percussion and the wordless harmonies from Dee Dee Bridgewater rounding off the sublime arrangement. Check out Anthony Braxton’s ‘Five Pieces’ album recorded in 1975. It’s interesting to note that Cecil McBee had collaborated with Anthony Braxton and the approach on this piece was faintly reminiscent of ‘Comp 23 H’ from the ‘Five Pieces’ album.

Cecil McBee’s uptempo driving bass dances in between the weaving sharp staccato saxophones on ‘Life Waves’, exploring new ideas and paths as the unexpected is always close. His sound is never obvious and there’s a freshness to many of his compositions, especially this improvisational piece. Check out his ‘Music From The Source’ album from 1977; another example of great composing and complexity which seems to never wane or fade.

The title track, ‘Mutima’, is a beautiful 13-minute composition that has similar touches to Pharoah Sander’s ‘Prince Of Peace’ in its build-up. Pianist Onaje Allen Gumbs, percussionists Michael Carvin and Jaboli Billy Hart create a rich colourful platform for trumpeter Tex Allen, flautist Art Webb and George Adams on soprano saxophone. The changing tempo adds a samba element with its swing and uptempo brashness.

In 1997, Universal Sound compiled a follow up to their excellent ‘Soul Jazz love Strata-East’ compilation that had been lovingly put together 3 years earlier. This follow up delved deeper into the important works that had been recorded for the New York based Strata-East label. One of the tracks included on the compilation was Cecil McBee’s ‘Tulsa Black’. A composition which featured his son playing electric bass. Lawrence Killan [congas], Jaboli Billy Hart [cymbal, percussion], Jimmy Hopps [drums], Art Webb [flute] , Michael Carvin [gong, percussion] feature alongside the leader on this and other compositions on the album.

A welcome reissue and a superb insight into the influence on sound that Cecil McBee has continued to support with his teaching, composing and playing.

Mark Jones