Legends Meet Up: The Harold Land/Blue Mitchell Quintet - "Mapenzi"

The Harold Land/Blue Mitchell Quintet • Mapenzi • 1977 • Concord Records
Recorded April 14, 1977 at Sunwest Recording Studios, Hollywood, CA

The Selections:

The Tracks:

A1. Mapenzi
A2. Rapture
A3. Habiba
B1. Blue Silver
B2. Everything's Changed
B3. Inner Voice
B4. Tres Senderos

The Players:

Harold Land - Tenor Sax
Blue Mitchell - Trumpet
Kirk Lightsey - Keyboards
Reggie Johnson - Bass
Al "Tootie" Heath - Drums

The Record:

Harold Land and Blue Mitchell

I certainly don't need to sell the outsize talents of Harold Land to loyal readers, his early work with the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet, as well as his later partnership with Bobby Hutcherson, has the tenor firmly on the radar of most jazz aficionados. The same can be said for Blue Mitchell, whose output as a leader and sideman on Blue Note, including his tenure with the 1958-1964 version of The Horace Silver Quintet, also makes him a favorite of hardcore jazz fans. Amazingly, the two legends never recorded together before Mapenzi, a record that came about when the two men formed a bond during an all-star big band jazz tour of South Africa in 1975. Prior to recording Mapenzi the newly formed quintet played regularly for nearly two years before hitting the studio, and the rapport of all involved is rock solid, resulting in an immensely enjoyable post bop record.

Harold Land's lyrical grace on the tenor is the perfect match for Mitchell's fluid phrasing on the trumpet, and both men's style is a perfect fit for the post bop they laid down on wax in 1977. This was still the era of soft fusion and electric jazz, and the musicians are clearly having a blast laying down some classic jazz licks during a time that the commercial leanings of the jazz world was primarily fluff and easy listening. Besides Land and Mitchell, both of whom shine, Kirk Lightsey deserves some special attention for both his playing and a couple of his compositions on the album. "Habiba" is a Lightsey tune that is not only the longest track on the record, but also happens to be the highlight of the proceedings. The group is on fire, and Lightsey's playing is truly electric. It should also be noted that bassist Reggie Johnson had some history with Land, he played alongside him on some of the classic Land-Hutcherson collaborations LPs (Total EclipseHead OnMedinaSpiral) and the two men clearly have a musical connection. Listen to how Johnson's bass lines mirror the melody of the horns on another of the album's highlights, the Land composition "Inner Voice," a great opportunity for the bassist to shine. The track also reflects the vibe of the album as a whole, this is a true group effort where all the players contribute equally, a result - no doubt - of the lessons learned by Mitchell and Land through their time spent playing with a couple of the most legendary jazz quintets to emerge from jazz's golden age.

The Vinyl:


The Details: Here we have an original pressing on the Concord Jazz label, other than the music involved it can't be classified as particularly collectable. While the Concord Jazz label may not be up there with other labels in terms of desirability, Mapenzi is nonetheless on the rarer end of the spectrum of late-'70s LP releases. Folks simply weren't buying a ton of straight ahead jazz albums during this time, and definitely not from an independent jazz label like Concord Jazz. Concord is anything but a small boutique label these days, in 2004 they purchased Fantasy Inc., who at the time owned the catalogs of Prestige, Contemporary, Fantasy, Milestone and Riverside. Needless to say they are now the caretakers of a massive amount of legendary and important jazz recordings.

The Price: I picked this one up about 6 years ago for $9 from an online retailer, a more than fair price in today's market for a record that easily rates VG+ for the vinyl and NM- for the cover.

The Sound: Surprisingly loud analog playback with a nice wide soundstage, at least for a late-'70s vinyl release. The vinyl is actually of a nice weight compared to many others from the late-'70s, it is by no means equal to the thick heavy vinyl from the 1950s and '60s, but it is also not a flimsy piece of plastic like the major labels were shamelessly pawning off on the listening public during this time. 

Final Thoughts:

Mapenzi seemed to go through a period of rediscovery when it was re-issued on CD, but not only is it no longer available on compact disc, it doesn't appear to currently be available on streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music. It's a real shame that more folks can't be exposed to the great post bop played by a crack group like the one found on Mapenzi, it's a testament not only to the talents of Land and Mitchell, but also that straight-ahead jazz music was still alive and well at the end of the '70s, a time when it appeared that style may have been gone for good.