From the first notes of "Autumn Leaves" on Red Mitchell’s final recording, Live at Port Townsend with George Cables, we know we’re in for something special. Cables kicks into a fabulous up-tempo statement of the theme with Mitchell, only four months from his passing, joining at a joyous jaunt. After a strong Cables solo, Red shows off his most playful side, sliding up and down the fingerboard.
Speaking of playful, the duo trades eights with humor unbounded, tossing quotes and comic phrases back and forth, theme and out and you think, "That was eight minutes? It seemed like two." This is what happens when two heavyweight jazz musicians throw caution to the wind and just enjoy themselves.
"Don’t Blame Me" was always a favorite theme of Thelonious Monk and funnily enough, Cables the pianist takes it straight, while Mitchell plays it the way Monk would have if he had played bass. In fact, all six cuts on this great album switch up expectations, with Mitchell suddenly dropping out on "Tangerine" to allow Cables to show off his considerable chops. Then Cables returns the favor, with Mitchell soloing into another thrilling walk under Cables’ terrifying right hand runs.
A clue to the genius of these two musicians occurs during the applause for "Tangerine" and before Cables’ solo intro to "Body and Soul." If you listen closely, you can hear Mitchell and Cables discussing the arrangement for "Body and Soul." Everything was made up on the spot, on that day, in that hour. In that delightful hour.