Thumbin’ a riff
I could have kicked myself, on arrival at Ronnie Scott’s to see Allen Toussaint a few nights ago, for misreading the bill and not realising that the evening included an early set featuring a trio led by Jim Mullen, the great Scottish guitarist who was part of the soul band Kokomo and then co-led a fusion band for many years with the late saxophonist Dick Morrissey. The group at Ronnie’s was completed by another guitarist, Nigel Price, and the bassist Mick Hutton. I got there in time to hear only the last couple of choruses of a ballad and a complete “Yardbird Suite”, which closed the set, but that was enough time to appreciate the quality of their interplay, and in particular the appealing contrast between the approaches of Mullen, who has always played with his thumb, and Price, who uses a pick. It was, I suppose, the closest you can get in the 21st century to hearing Wes Montgomery (thumb) jamming with Grant Green (pick).
I was even more annoyed with myself because just a couple of days earlier I’d invested in the new album by the Jim Mullen Organ Trio. It’s called Catch My Drift, it’s released on the Diving Duck label, and it features Mike Gorman on Hammond B3 and Matt Skelton on drums. They play standards (“Deep in a Dream”, “Lonely Town”), the Ellington/Strayhorn “Day Dream”, a couple of Tom Jobim tunes (“Samba de Aviao” and “Esquecendo Voce”), Toots Thielemans’ “For My Lady”, Donald Fagen’s “Maxine”, Chick Corea’s “High Wire”, Georgie Fame’s “Declaration of Love”, and Earth, Wind and Fire’s “You Can’t Hide Love”. Again there’s a Wes Montgomery comparison: the format and the mood are strong reminiscent of the excellent trio with which Montgomery recorded for Riverside in 1959, with the organist Melvin Rhyne and the drummer Paul Parker.
Catch My Drift is not a record that’s going to redraw the boundaries of jazz, but in every other way it’s a beauty. Mullen’s own playing is wonderfully mellow, its air of relaxation almost obscuring its more profound qualities of melodic inventiveness and absolute rhythmic security, while Gorman locates an interesting space between the discreet, economical approach of the aforementioned Rhyne and the more adventurous style of Larry Young. Skelton provides unfailing swing and thoughtful shading; the solo with which he ends “Maxine”, improvising against the organ’s comping, is extremely stimulating, as is his light-fingered workout with the brushes on “Day Dream”.
Mullen, who is now 68, really deserves a lot more credit and attention than he has been given since the end of the Morrissey-Mullen band 25 years ago. The next time I get a chance to hear him in person, I’ll be sure to arrive on time.
(The other good news is that Mullen will be taking part in this year’s Kokomo reunion, along with his fellow guitarist Neil Hubbard, singers Dyan Birch, Paddy McHugh and Frank Collins, Tony O’Malley on keyboards and vocals, Mel Collins on tenor saxophone and Jody Linscott on congas, plus Jennifer Maidman on bass guitar and Ash Soan on drums. They’re playing half a dozen dates in August, including the 100 Club, the Half Moon in Putney and the Richmond Athletic Club.)
* The photograph of Jim Mullen is from the cover of Catch My Drift, and is uncredited.