I'm not sure why the jazz duo of Dwike Mitchell and Willie Ruff weren't better known in the '50s and '60s, when they did most of their recording—or why they still aren't household names. Part of the reason, I suppose, is that the delicate combination of Mitchell (piano) and Ruff (French horn and bass) wasn't exactly a happening sound back then. Delicate and sensitive with touches of classical influence, the duo's jazz wasn't pop-flavored in the late '50s or expressive and excessive in the '60s. Today I suspect they aren't well known because most of their albums haven't been released digitally.
I must confess that the scarcity of their albums has kept me from being as up on their catalog as I should be. Back in the '70s, I remember passing on them because there wasn't enough crashing and bashing going on. Hey, I was in my 20s. Now that I'm slightly older, their music makes perfect sense. Recently I had an opportunity to hear their Brazilian Trip, and the music on the album is pure mink-soft joy.
Recorded in the summer of 1966, Brazilian Trip isn't really a mid-'60s bossa nova album in the traditional sense. Many of those jazz albums had a splashy commercial sound—a free ride, if you will, the way kids on bikes used to hang onto the backs of buses for velocity. By contrast, this album by the Mitchell-Ruff Duo is caring, loving and fully understanding of Brazilian music's enormous sensitivity.
Essentially, what you have here is Mitchell and Ruff in New York matching tender wits with a group of Brazilian musicians. The lineup includes Mitchell and Ruff joined by Brazilian guitarists Sergio Augusto, Durval Ferreira and Candinho on different tracks along with drummer Chico Batera. What's startling about this album is what it's not: Mitchell and Ruff purposely avoided the bossa trap and instead made an intensely graceful and exquisite Brazilian jazz album.
Hopefully Mosaic or Fresh Sound will see fit to release a larger supply of the Mitchell-Ruff collaborations, since so little is available.
You may recall that Dwike Mitchell died in April. Willie Ruff is still with us. Mitchell was a beautiful player, and with Ruff, sublime.
JazzWax clip: Here's Dwike Mitchell on piano, Willie Ruff on bass, Durval Ferreira on guitar and Chico Batera on drums playing Chuva...
And here's Mitchell and Ruff (on French horn) with Ferreira and Batera playing Sonhando...
JazzWax video: Here's a fabulous clip of Mitchell and Ruff. Sorry I can't embed the video here but the person who posted it disabled the code.