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Billy Mitchell: The Traveler

Southern California pianist Billy Mitchell’s stated goal with The Traveler is to express how the soul of black music is expressed in different cultures. It’s a big subject, but Mitchell pulls it off in his own smooth way, boosted immensely by cowriter and percussionist extraordinaire Munyungo Jackson. It’s music that’s easy to listen to, with the jazziest and most challenging piece offering a grooving and bluesy keyboard run on Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance.”

Although Mitchell and Jackson’s “Jambo Rafiki” sounds like it will be a piece straight from the heart of Mother Africa, it instead would fit happily on the smoothest Joe Sample CD. Ditto War’s “The World Is a Ghetto” and Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower,” with its light piano swinging and sexy, robust sax soloing from Robert Kyle. And although Ivan Lins’ “Love Dance” is supposedly representative of Brazil, it doesn’t do much to remind listeners of that country. But it’s as pretty as hell, which is maybe the point. Mitchell does return to a previous CD to remix two tracks, “Sahara” and “Lion’s Den,” to fit in with the theme. The former speaks to Africa with its soulful female vocals, and the latter offers a bit of mind-altering screaming rock guitar from Werner Schurchner.

Originally Published