PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Benny Green and Russell Malone: Jazz at the Bistro

Robert R. Calder

Benny Green and Russell Malone

Jazz at the Bistro

Label: Telarc
US Release Date: 2003-01-28
UK Release Date: 2003-02-24

Benny Green's recent solo piano CD continued to indicate something of the range to be expected of him though still a young pianist. Here, the emphasis is on duet, and he has adapted, not to Russell Malone's guitar playing but to the duo they are together. Had it been made, the recording of the late Tiny Grimes in duo with Hank Jones would have been a handy comparison, though here duties of extreme delicacy are filled by the guitarist.

The duo's perfection is in an individual repertoire; chosen from an unusual wide range (Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley included), every written item is tuned perfectly to the four hands. Mellow is a good word for the music, a word less wisely applied to themselves (as it might have been) by some St. Louis citizens in the venue on nights this depiction of a live set was recorded. Just now and then I don't suppose those patrons knew (any more than the CD listener can) quite why one and another of them started clapping when he or she did. Fresh air can at times be nearly a draught; and there can be problems with live performances. Equally some recordings of live performances manage quite extraordinarily to capture an occasion, and by choosing from tapes of several successive nights, this CD has managed to present, without longueurs, the feel and stuff of a real complete night's gig. I really can't believe the duo had rehearsed the performance wherein playing "Killing Me Softly" Malone suddenly feels like pleasing himself with a segue into "How Deep Is Your Love", and Green goes with him all the way into that question. It's not hard to understand the depth of interest each has in the other's playing.

A dedication to both musicians' "dear friend and teacher" the late Ray Brown is noteworthy, suggesting the inspiration of their magical rhythmic pulse. I've heard too little of Russell Malone to say about him, but I know Benny Green keeps getting better. I don't miss the sound of a bass, its feel is certainly implied, internalised by these men (in another sense we of course all miss Ray Brown). In this very distinctive sounding unit's wholly fresh repertoire, "Tale of the Fingers" (by another master bassist, the late Paul Chambers) settles in perfectly. The potential of Joe Raposo's music was realised some time back in a piano solo performance of "Rubber Ducky" by the late Dick Wellstood, a distinctive stylist Benny Green might like to check up on. Raposo's "Sing" inspires the duo for nearly six minutes. This is delight music, and to round off the set, first there's Malone introducing the audience to what Green can do without him (on a tune of Green's own) and Green introducing a guitar solo "Hand-Told Stories", composed by Malone and dedicated to the divine Tommy Flanagan. Friendship endures.

Then there's an encore, another (another night's?) performance of Billy Strayhorn's "The Intimacy of the Blues". Perhaps there's a lot of Strayhorn in the musical palette of this pair? The encore has rather less to do with Strayhorn's theme than the performance earlier on the disc; clearly mere routine is not for either of these men, each of them reaping the harvest of having found (Wellstood's phrase) "a wonderful way of playing", whether piano or guitar or duets. There are hints of a not yet realised definitive performance of that Strayhorn item in the version earlier on -- good gigs usually indicate some kinds of growth. But the one they go out on is really just a workout swinging the blues, such as Malone's earlier brother in the muse Tiny Grimes did. Malone reminds me of that late neglected guitarist not by sounding terribly like him, but by bringing him to mind as part of one big warm feeling. These are young men, their music is fresh and itself carries a lot of experience, a great deal of room for discovery. The terms "gratitude", and "peace and blessings" feature in the signoffs at the end of each man's little memoir of the few nights gig on the CD box. Hear, hear.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

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.