Junior Cook Quintet – JUNIOR’S COOKIN’. OJC 1002; Released 1999. It was a natural move. Riverside was making a long series of albums with Blue Mitchell, and his hornmate with Horace Silver was available. Two sessions, one on each coast, with the entire Silver group minus its leader. A batch of young songs, including two Mitchell would do on other albums. You’d think it can’t miss, and mostly you’re right.
We start with a familiar mood in an unfamiliar place. Cook trills mournfuly at the opening of “Myzar”, a muscular theme with a hint of the Middle East. The bop was never harder; pianist Ronnie Mathews jabs the chords as Cook here burns straight-ahead, there musing on the exotic theme, getting faster as it progresses. Mitchell is more restrained, sounding classical at times as he casts broad swaths of pure tone. Near the end he begins to flash high, little bursts of heat. Mathews is cool; he cycles little themes and dips into the blues for a great final chorus.
Mitchell’s bright mute sets the scene for “Turbo Village”, a breezy on-the-road tune. Cook’s tone is mellow and smooth, breaking into choppy bits later. Mitchell’s solo is open and Mathews lays out for most of it, bringing out Gene Taylor’s bass. Mitchell is sharper than he was in “Myzar”, with full sound and hints of “Woody N’You”. Mathews has another good solo (quoting “Holiday for Strings”!) and the band drives away from the village.
“Easy Living” is Junior’s. This one sounds great, with an easy-going force I always love in sax players. Mathews puts pretty notes in all the right places, and Cook knows what to do with a ballad. Mitchell only appears at the ends for flavor – this is the track where we know who the leader is.
“Blue Farouq” changes the picture entirely. The pianist is Dolo Coker and the studio is Gold Star, birthplace of many Phil Spector hits. The famous studio echo is here, and the band uses it; this is a brassy shout, and Mitchell comes through like anything. Cook is soft early on, Coker’s piano drowns him a little. This pushes him some, and he draws long lines, getting loud as his tone gains muscle. Mitchell’s solo is great as he makes a series of tumbles near the end. Coker likes thick chords (the notes compare him to Red Garland), and his solo is full of atmospheric tinkles. “Sweet Cakes” has a mood like “Myzar”. Cook is very sad, sometimes reflective but mostly shouting. This is his best fast number, and Mitchell follows it well. He stabs the room with his high notes, filling it with echo. Coker races, scatters notes, and closes in a great wash of chords. Red would be proud. The fade has soft Mitchell echoes and lots of cymbals – a great way to end. “Field Day” has a confident swagger. Coker opens with his best solo, an active little thing. Mitchell dices notes madly; his solo is gone before you know it. Cook surges, getting bolder when Coker starts chording in the second chorus. It’s far too short, and in many ways the Gold Star tracks are the best of what’s here.
“Pleasure Bent” takes us to New York, Ronnie Mathews, and a relaxed beat. Mathews’ solo smiles, taking us up a notch. Mitchell is smooooth, his creamy solo a delicious confection. Cook walks with a spring in his step, his sound assured. He doesn’t have to speed because he knows where he’s going. Mathews comes in strong and Cook responds, the horn getting loud but just as unhurried. Taylor gets his only solo of the date. It’s limber and mostly in the lower register; sadly, Mathews’ comping drowns some of it. The fellows then theme and send us home, Mitchell getting a nice flourish at the end.
Junior never changed his last name to “Chef” as the notes predicted, but his first album is very respectable. Mitchell is great throughout; at times it sounds like his album. When Cook goes full-bore, he’s a joy to hear. Neither pianist tries to be Horace Silver; that helps. And the tunes are solid, showing a lot of moods. While I personally would have liked a little more fire, this is a good solid album, and, yes, it cooks.