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The Sixth Sense (1967)

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Frank Mitchell

From late 1967 through 1968, Lee Morgan fronted a fine sextet with alto saxophonist Jackie McLean and the less-heralded tenor saxophonist Frank Mitchell. The group recorded The Sixth Sense, but by September of 1968, Morgan, Mitchell, and drummer Billy Higgins remained, the band revamped and reduced to a quintet. Those later sessions were not released until 1999 with the issue of this CD, which includes three bonus tracks. Where McLean's contribution was very telling in terms of the combo's overall sound, the quintet was able to further display the quiet confidence and competence Mitchell held. Either Cedar Walton or Harold Mabern appear showcasing their distinctive qualities, so this transitional recording marks the end of Walton's association, and the beginning of Mabern's, who would last with Morgan right up to his tragic and senseless murder. The symmetry of McLean's sourdough alto, Morgan's on-top trumpet and the middle-ground tenor of Mitchell is more balanced on the straight-ahead calypso title track, sweet and light as Walton sets the pace and proportions the right seasonings. "Short Count" on the other hand displays a stubby melody spiked by Walton's piano accents and the drum fills of Higgins in a more off minor taste. Approaching boogaloo go-go, "Psychedelic" is not so much acidic as conga line, Morgan leading the group, then following. The most memorable piece is Walton's "Afreaka," a wonderful modal piece with an Afro-centric groove and great harmonic content. High drama identifies "Anti Climax" with a dark, closet film noir sound acceding to hard bop, while the great Cal Massey composition "The Cry of My People" is covered, a ballad dominated by Morgan's somber and deep muted trumpet, swinging lightly on the bridge. The three tracks sans McLean and Walton with Morgan, Mitchell, Mabern, Higgins, and bassist Mickey Bass replacing Victor Sproles from the fall of 1968 sound noticeably different from the others. There's a more soulful flavor in Mabern's Memphis-cum-N.Y.C. uptown approach, and Mitchell challenges himself to assert his individual, less-pronounced voicings. The tenorman's post-bop composition "Extemporaneous" displays tricky phrasings and a musical syncopation, Bass' "Mickey's Tune" uses a loping 5/4 to 6/8 rhythm change so modern it keeps your ears on their toes, so to speak, and while "Leebop" is fairly typical, the chord substitutions and brilliant playing of Mabern are hard to ignore as he digs in, far above average or timid. The more one listens to Mabern the more you understand why he was a favorite of Morgan's, and everyone else's. The appropriately title Sixth Sense presents a transition between one of the most intriguing sextets during the last years of post-bop and Morgan's final ensembles that saw him reaching higher and higher before, like Icarus, falling from grace. ~ Michael G. Nastos