PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Benny Green / Russell Malone: Bluebird

Robert R. Calder

Benny Green / Russell Malone


Label: Telarc
US Release Date: 2004-06-22
UK Release Date: 2004-08-02

This CD is a nice album of very straightforward mainstream jazz showing its roots in the whole history of the electric guitar in jazz. Nat Cole, who was a great jazz pianist quite apart from any gifts as a singer, led an early piano, guitar, and bass trio. So for a time did Art Tatum. Along with especially Hank Jones and to some extent Erroll Garner, both these pianists were major influences on Oscar Peterson, and their trios had considerable influence on the trio he formed with Ray Brown and Herb Ellis. Peterson was a major influence on Benny Green and on the earlier and comparable Monty Alexander, both of whom worked with Brown, as indeed did Russell Malone, a guitarist of considerable technical accomplishment not afraid to demonstrate a considerable variety of approach.

His penchant for variety is demonstrated in his performances in duo with Green, where he has lots of unshowy means of accompaniment and support behind the pianist. He perhaps enables Green to distinguish himself, here, from an early obviously virtuoso style; and to play with an at times startling directness. I don't suppose even Green has Peterson's (metaphorical) fingers; I do know that, like Alexander, he has become a more distinctive and distinguished performer after beginnings -- I remember a trio with Ben Wolfe on bass and Carl Allen on drums -- a little short on musical detail.

It's probably been relatively easy for the technician to pick up a version of jazz piano founded on the limited coverage afforded by the media -- big names like Peterson and Dave Brubeck and Erroll Garner and George Shearing (who says Hank Jones is still his mentor) -- without having heard the sort of range of players audible within a specifically jazz environment. There's no musical reason why Dave McKenna wasn't better known before illness recently ended his career. Lots of people are afraid to listen, because they need the performer to have a reputation. I wonder how limited Green's access to tradition was in his formative years.

There's a jovial allusion in beginning of the second recorded set by this duo with Milt Jackson's "Reunion Blues", and the performance gives the game away that both these guys can play and like to play in duo. Green charges in with less flash than formerly, but with quite as much swing and brio. "It's All Right With Me" demonstrates Malone's fast fingers, and his touch and command of phrasing.

Delight is what these men are after, and there's more good humour and colour in such choices of repertoire as "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" and "Feel Like Makin' Love". I rate neither terribly highly as straight jazz vehicles; they belong to a very wide range of song compositions seriously justifiable only when taken up as challenges. The challenge Green and Malone have taken up is in keeping with their upbeat approach, and has everything to do with wit. They can joke around with these tunes in terms approaching irony if not quite parody. Playing together, they essay paraphrases. Each of them sounds out the tune to the other, and takes the solo lead as if the tune had been tossed to him, finishing it by tossing the thing back to the other guy, or just joining in a play-out, justifiably pleased with what they've managed to do.

"Love for Sale" is a substantial vehicle, but here they take up the dark undercurrent of its original incarnation, "everything but true love". Malone's rapidly and tightly strummed dry-toned or acoustic guitar plays on an underlying menace by exploiting the melodramatic. This is musically sophisticated and creative, instrumentally-challenging fun, all the better for Green's ability to be deadpan matter-of-fact.

On Malone's "Flowers for Emmett Till" the duo's individual talent for novel texture is also in evidence. "Where is the Love" further demonstrates the considerable gentleness of their playing when required.

Another difference between Green and Peterson is in the former's more obvious harmonic sophistication. Art Tatum's amazing harmonic advances were expressed in multinoted filigree lines, which Peterson's earliest recordings (fifty-five years back, in Canada) initially emulated in playing with affinities also to the more ringing sound of bebop piano, Bud Powell very obviously. Peterson says he learned to accompany by listening from the wings to Hank Jones, when they were both working in the Jazz at the Philharmonic troupe. Perhaps Jones also influenced Peterson in the direction of something mellower?

Green has never been a mellow player -- that's not a required quality and its absence has its own creative advantages. Listen to the title track, and also "Passport", both Charlie Parker compositions. Parker died at thirty-five with the body of a man in his sixties and a lot of qualities more to be associated with somebody age seventeen-and-a-half. This sort of middle-road music demands youthfulness, and Green and Malone do like to underline that quality.

And why not follow everything else with a performance of something not only mellow, but also perfectly in keeping with programming on the intelligent principles whose neglect harmed a lot of past sessions by musicians who could have been doing better? It shouldn't take that long to find a piece better than the first things which come to mind!

And so we have Peterson's "Wheatland", which is really the meat of this pair's repertoire. Music isn't to be discussed in the same terms as food. The dessert can come at any stage, and likewise satisfaction.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.