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Thumbin’ a riff

Jim MullenI 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.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. stewart gunn #

    Kokomo summer gigs are essential – talk of more next year if demand ok

    April 20, 2014
  2. Adam Glasser #

    Hi Richard, great to read your blog celebrating Jim Mullen – though please correct the first name of guitarist Nigel Price ( not Nick) …


    Adam Glasser

    Sent from iPhone

    April 20, 2014
  3. Great to see Jim being given some long overdue credit. A superb musician, always playing at the highest level. Jim’s solo always delight and often have a canny musical quotation. Another band to check out that he plays in is The Great Wee Band with Henry Lowther.

    April 20, 2014
  4. Gregor Alvey #

    Hello Richard…missed opportunities !
    Early 1970’s and I went (with a few friends) down from London to see our schoolmate Keith who was in his first year at Portsmouth Poly. Being music fans we liked to see a live band and had tickets to see Rory Gallagher who was playing on the pier that night. Starting off in the pub we had a few beers, and were reliably informed that the support acts are ‘never much good’ so we had another couple, finally getting to the gig at about 10.00pm. Rory was by then well into ‘Going to my home town’ on mandolin, and when I asked a bloke in the de rigeur uniform of check shirt and denims about the support band we missed he informed me they were ‘very strange looking’ and ‘not your usual line up’………..Roxy Music!
    I also regret not catching Rainer Ptacek when he played in a local pub in Cambridge in the nineties. He was advertised on the chalk board outside as ‘Outslides Ry Cooder’.
    Still Kokomo will be great, and I’m looking forward to that lovely extended solo on Bobby Womack’s “I can understand it’.
    Best wishes and thanks for the great musical variety and the quality of the writing on your blog.
    Gregor Alvey

    April 20, 2014
  5. Reblogged this on thejazzword and commented:
    Jim Mullen is a legend and it’s great to read Richard Williams’s piece honouring him. If you get the chance try to see Jim play live, you will not be disappointed. We saw him about 4 years ago at a private gig in Sussex and he was superb; the gig was headlined by another guitar wizard, Jan Ackerman – he’s another not to be missed.

    April 20, 2014
  6. geoffnoble #

    Worth adding that Nigel Price has his own excellent organ trio, which won the Parliamentary Jazz Awards a couple of years ago.

    April 21, 2014
  7. If you can make it over to North London, Richard, Jim is playing with Stan Sulzmann on tenor, Dave Green on bass and Stu Butterfield on drums at the Great Northern Railway Tavern in Hornsey High Street on May 29 (basically the Great Wee Band minus Henry Lowther – Stan is often a guest with the GWB). ( for details.)

    April 22, 2014
  8. Fred Shuster #

    I find Mullen’s straight-ahead shtick dour, thin and forced — unlike many of today’s New York players, and not to mention people like Grant and Wes. However, in Kokomo, Jim consistently knocked my socks off.

    April 22, 2014
    • Honestly, I don’t think you’ll find any of those pejorative adjectives applicable to Catch My Drift…

      April 22, 2014

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