With a voice that may be the sincerest in delivery and tone since Mel Torme, Ron Mitchell’s Jazzy Me, Live In Japan, is an incredible disc if one overlooks the obvious sonic problems - the piano is too loud and sounds tinny, the vocals are set too far in the back, and the mastering leaves much to be desire. This disc is so good that if those problems had been corrected in post-production, it might have very well ended up on many critic's list of the best discs of 2009.
Mitchell began singing at the age of five in his family’s church choir. At 17 he met Kim Weston, best known for her duet with Marvin Gaye on "It Takes Two." Weston took Mitchell on as protégé and then as a background singer replacing Gaye on Weston’s live dates. As a leader Mitchell’s opened for Mary Johnson, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and for Weston. Recent work includes tours of Japan as a leader and background vocal work with guitarist Earl Klugh. This self-produced and -released live CD features a backing band including pianist Keshi Motsumoto, bassist Kohei Iszumi, drummer "Aka" and saxophonist Jo Jo Mass.
Perhaps this recording can be best summed up by Mitchell’s exquisite singing on Gershwin’s "Someone To Watch Over Me." On the free-time introduction Mitchell doesn’t just sing the notes well, he cradles them carefully. His delivery goes well beyond caressing the words, he seemingly searches his soul for an emotional time in his life that relates to the lyric and then uses that part of his being to draw upon in relating the lyric’s import. And at the end of the song when he sustains the final note, with just a slight melisma, you can’t help but have your heart break in sympathy. It’s this kind of technique that is encapsulated throughout the disc. When coupled with his pure tone you have a winning combination.
The backing band is more than good. Totally in-sync with Mitchell, Keshi Motsumoto’s piano work is, while not flashy, a perfect match for Mitchell’s cabaret style delivery. "Aka" has a wonderfully light percussion style, and Iszumi’s bass playing is locked in the pocket throughout, but perhaps no more perfectly than when he’s walking some incredibly hip bass lines behind Motsumoto’s solo on "Smile." Mitchell deserves to be heard. Here’s hoping some record exec looks beyond the sonics and hears the voice for what it truly is and signs Mitchell up.