Good and bad are often intermingled in life.

For instance summer is here and as such the days and nights have endless opportunities for fun, but taking advantage of that invariably means there’s far less time to write and post these reviews and as a result the site here has gone dark a few days over the last couple of weeks.

Back in 1951 Freddie Mitchell, the man who has all but kept Derby Records afloat these last few years, has been as prolific as ever which is good, yet rock instrumentals are no longer as potent commercially as they once were which is bad news for their solvency as a company.

To take it one step further, we’re glad to see him contributes an original song here rather than reviving another moldy oldy, but we’re somewhat dismayed to find that rather than use it to really try and raise the bar higher, either with something explosive or just something melodically addictive, he comes up with a song whose most intriguing aspect is found in its evocatively contradictory title.

Hot and cold… good and bad.


Heating Things Up
Maybe we shouldn’t be all that surprised that Freddie Mitchell wasn’t quite up to writing and arranging a stellar piece of his own. After all, while he was a very good saxophonist who’d been the best attribute of virtually every record he appeared on, whether under his own name or backing a wide variety of singers, there was nothing to suggest he could function at a high level beyond that, as say Maxwell Davis or Big Jay McNeely had been doing.

That’s not to take away from Mitchell’s skill blowing his tenor sax with the kind of fury at times that made rock of this era so exhilarating. To hear him reinvent, if not desecrate, revered standards from all fields not only helped to establish rock’s image of giving the middle finger to the civilized world, but also provided him with ample opportunity to break free of convention, as those songs had good melodies that would naturally be accentuated for much of the record before Freddie cut loose with something far more ostentatious which was guaranteed to stand out.

But on Hot Ice it was he who would be tasked with creating both the more formalized structure that would make it compelling musically, as well as trying to shatter that framework at key junctures to give it the kind of excitement the rock fan was seeking in these kinds of records.

Unfortunately both of those tasks prove to be just outside of his reach and what we’re left with is a record that is merely competent when what we need – what we want – is something that sizzles like a block of ice dropped on the hardtop when its ninety degrees out.

Contradiction In Terms
In all fairness to Freddie Mitchell, sometimes the demands of a confined environment like a three minute single is not enough to fully show your wares.

If he wants to focus on establishing something deeper and more profound he needs time to build up – starting slow to gradually establish a melodic narrative that can reveal additional facets as he goes along. Yet in doing so he’s probably not going have time to really knock the listener over with something more explosive that will make an immediate and lasting impression.

It’s the difference between making small talk with someone in passing and a prolonged conversation where you get to sit with that person and really get to know each other over time.

Now of course few rock singles are very expansive to begin with, so the structural boundaries are pretty well established and Mitchell should be smart enough to confine himself to those requirements. Find a melodic hook and drive that home before ramping up the intensity and then gradually dial things back down, revisiting that hook and taking it to the fade in a sensible fashion.

Hot Ice makes its mistake by starting off with an out of date mindset featuring an easily forgettable hook that’s leftover from another era. It’s played with just enough “oomph” to get by in a rock landscape, but it’s hardly going to turn any heads.

When Mitchell tries to establish the melody it’s pretty lightweight even though he and the other horns are interacting well throughout the performance without anybody stepping all over one another in the process.

It’s rambunctious without being rowdy, seamless without being mesmerizing, decent enough without being anything approaching great.

Since there’s so many horns overlapping, he’s not getting a strict solo per say, more like a spotlighted performance which does manage to heat things up a little bit with a forceful repetitiveness, but it never builds to a frantic climax but rather just goes in circles until it wears itself out.

There’s never a point where you’d find yourself reaching for the Off button, but you aren’t turning it up or hitting Repeat either. It’s the sixth song in a twelve song set at a roadhouse on a Thursday night… it’ll do just enough to keep you on the floor without guaranteeing that you work up much of a sweat.


Cooling Off
Despite the mediocre results here Freddie Mitchell seems to have been somewhat enamored with his efforts, for a decade later he revived this on ABC Paramount as his recording career wound down.

Now granted this WAS a decent sized hit, particularly in Los Angeles but also doing well in selected other spots from the Rocky Mountains to the Windy City without being so big at any one time across the country to reach the national charts. Still, you can see why he was pleased with the response after a bit of a dry spell lately.

But it’s not as compelling as its success would indicate, nor is it as intriguing musically. Though its title suggests Hot Ice has some scalding blowing in a cool production, the fact of the matter is it’s more of a case of sustaining a median temperature throughout the performance.

Call it lukewarm and hope that it doesn’t melt into oblivion before you have a chance to get the cubes in the glass as the sun beats down on you while the music plays indistinctly in the background as we kick back and relax during another endless summer day on the beach.


(Visit the Artist page of Freddie Mitchell for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)