In retrospect, Mitchell and Ruff were probably victims of label marketing. The first session featured on this two-fer, Brazilian Trip
, was more than likely an attempt to capture a piece of the bossa nova pie; the second was released just when jazz began to find a niche on the college campuses. Had the duo found a little more guidance from an excellent producer, they may have turned in some exceptional playing. As it stands, both records feature passable jazz of limited range.
The first session featured here was recorded after a trip to Brazil, where Mitchell and Ruff traveled to soak up the culture and recruit a few musicians to record an album. This sure sounds like a recipe for a sure thing, but it never really works. For one thing, although the songs are all composed by Brazilian natives, the tunes aren’t really all that good. The other pitfall is that adding guitar and congas doesn’t necessarily guarantee that traditional Brazilian music will be played, and at times the group seems to teeter between samba rhythms and more traditional fare. The syncopation is stiff, as if Mitchell was playing with oven mitts, and where the music should gently swing, it seems too choppy to be effective. Brazilian Trip is an excellent example of what happens when artists take their musical aspirations too seriously; they end up biting off more than they can chew.
The second of the two records is far better, featuring serviceable, but not exceptional, renditions of standard tunes. “Red Sails In The Sunset” and “Little Boy Blue” spotlight the conservatory background of the duo; both are impressionistic pieces in the style of Ravel and are quite lovely. There are also adequate renditions of several standards, where Mitchell sounds remarkably like Oscar Peterson, but the two falter on the more tricky pieces, like “Round Midnight”. Ruff, who had a field day with the French horn on the previous session, is a ghostly presence here, adding depth with his bass and little else.
Despite the fact that this session is merely average, Collectables Records should once again be commended for reissuing a record of obscure material that surely is of marginal interest. Surely someone out there has been looking for these records for years and will be glad that they are available. Kudos to a label willing to take that risk.
Personnel: Dwike Mitchell-piano; Willie Ruff-French horn, bass.