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.

Music

Kenny Burrell: 75th Birthday Bash Live!

Mainstream guitar with big band and small group -- an easygoing tasty treat.


Kenny Burrell

75th Birthday Bash Live!

Contributors: Kenny Burrell, Joey DeFrancesco, Hubert Laws, Gerald Wilson
Label: Blue Note
US Release Date: 2007-06-19
UK Release Date: 2007-06-18
Amazon
iTunes

Kenny Burrell is a modern jazz guitar master, and his 75th birthday about a year ago is the occasion celebrated on this eclectic, enjoyable live outing. Recorded at Yoshi's, the venerable Bay Area club, the disc features Burrell in trio, septet, and Big Band settings. The Birthday Boy sounds as he ever has -- limber, tasteful, subtle, and firmly in ensconced in blues playing.

In many ways, Burrell is a jazz master who tends to fall between the cracks. Neither one of the architects of the modern style (as, say, Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian, and Wes Montgomery are seen) nor one of the fiery upstarts who arrived as the rock era was dawning (say, George Benson), he tends to be heard as the peer of guitarists such as Grant Green and Jim Hall -- heavyweights, to be sure, but maybe light heavyweights.

This set certainly shows that Burrell has never skimped on ambition or reach. The proceedings begin with half a dozen tracks featuring Burrell fronting the Gerald Wilson Orchestra, the most impressive long-standing West Coast big band working today. Three of the tracks are well-known Ellington tunes, cementing Burrell's reputation for interpreting Duke with aplomb. Burrell rides out in front of the band like a good vocalist, swinging the melody without needing to overpower the proceedings. On "Love You Madly" and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore", the whole arrangement is built around goosing the guitar into the air. Better, on this night, were the other Wilson tunes. "Viva Tirado" is an attractive Latin theme that lets the big band dance front and center before setting a nice place for Burrell's low and bluesy picking. The leader effectively uses repeated tones to create both rhythmic interest and a sense of mystery. Just as fun, certainly, is a vocal take on "Stormy Monday" that morphs into a Wilson blues original. Kenny -- how about it -- is a charming vocalist.

For my money, however, more sparks fly with Burrell in the smaller setting. The second half of the date is given over to playing that is more exposed and intimate. A trio take on Wayne Shorter's familiar 6/8 theme "Footprints" repays repeated listenings. Burrell is barely amplified here, and the sense of skin on string helps the tune to insinuate with power. Clayton Cameron's brush drum solo is tasty. Also in waltz time is Miles's "All Blues", with Burrell playing both the melody and the classic chord figure on guitar. The trio makes the familiar theme its own.

These small group sides, however, may be of most interest because of the fire and beauty ignited by two guest soloists. First is the participation of flutist Hubert Laws. For a short time between 1964 and 1974, Laws applied outstanding classical tone and technique to jazz, creating a minor but compelling body of work that was more substantive than "smooth jazz", but seductive and easy on the ears nevertheless. Since then, however, Laws has happily worked in R&B and in the studio doing relatively little jazz. To hear him, out of the blue, on J.J. Johnson's "Lament" with Burrell is like seeing ghost. His tone, imagination, and phrasing remain impeccable.

More exciting, if less unlikely, is the organ work by Joey DeFrancesco, currently the finest B3 player on the planet. On "A Night in Tunisia", DeFrancesco plays after an alto solo and a tenor solo, and he blows them both so far out of the water that you wonder how the horn players got cab fare back to the club for the next tune. Joey phrases with a fluid freedom that few musicians have on any instrument -- at once nasty and hip. On "I'll Close My Eyes", DeFrancesco lays back in his ballad mode, and he serves up the leader on a gorgeous platter of organ wash. Burell sounds utterly at home playing with DeFrancesco -- making you wish that the whole date had matched these two guys, with a healthy side dose of Hubert Laws.

But it's not that kind of a gig. After all, it is labeled as a birthday "bash", and the main thing is fun. The closer is "Take the A Train", with Burrell introducing his band in between vocal scat licks and short rips of tasty guitar. It has, as it is supposed to, a late night feeling -- the sense of a guy doing what he loves without any real weight of expectation or worry. Which, perhaps, has always been Burrell's style.

After all, here is a guy who played and recorded with Coltrane, yet isn't really afforded "god" status among fans. At 75, he found himself typically carefree and whimsical, lyrical and unforced, playing the music he loves for the world's most famous jazz label without trying too hard to create a masterpiece. A nice weekend's work.

6

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.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

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.

Film

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.

Music

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.

Music

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.

Music

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.

Music

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.

Film

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.

Music

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.

Film

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.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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