Kenny Burrell – 12.15.78
Released 1979; Re-released 1999
“I’ve enjoyed working at his club once or twice a year for over twenty years…It’s one of my favorite clubs in the whole world.” That is the Village Vanguard, and this is Kenny Burrell. The tapes were rolling, and the group is a trio, meaning more space for the guitar. The results are light and festive, fitting the holiday they were about to celebrate. The notes say “Man — he’s damn good!” and there’s another reason to celebrate.
The applause is loud, and all is stilled when the music starts. He crawls into the “Second Balcony”, chording with a touch of fuzz. The solo is clean and slow; wait for Larry Gales to walk high, going over Burrell! It’s an understated jump — the highlight is delicate cymbalwork. The fuzz is gone on “Willow”: it’s a fluid bounce, and the brushes are gorgeous. He turns his volume down, and you’ll want to turn yours up — if you were at the club, you’d lean forward. The second chorus is full of chords, a simple technique but very effective. He limbers up for a solo “Work Song”: loud slashes give way to fretboard scampers. The theme comes in steps, but you know right away — Kenny works hard!
“Woody ‘n You” takes it fast, with deep fuzz and busy fingers. Maybe too busy; at times it sounds cluttered. (Ferguson’s solo is nice, as is Kenny’s return.) “Still of the Night” has a wonderful intro: thick strum from Gales, subtle toms, and chords like a whisper — or a kiss. The guitar picks it up, smooth lines, sweet flourishes on top; a lovely night, and far from still. The Ellington medley starts solo (tape hiss is a major distraction) and gets happy for “Love You Madly” — strong octaves and shimmering cymbals. And “It’s Getting Dark” (a ’62 track from BLUESY BURRELL) leaves us in a mellow mood, peaked by a marvelous bass. Applaud with the crowd, and don’t leave your seat yet.
The balance of the set was later issued as KENNY BURRELL IN NEW YORK. The notes say “If you enjoyed the first part … you need to prolong the thrill — it gets better!” Very true; most of the mellow tunes are here, and this is where Kenny excels. But not yet: first up a fast samba, with twittering notes. This becomes a two-finger pattern, and then “Pent-Up House”, chords ending the phrase. A little distortion is used with taste; fans of his “clean” sound will not be turned off. Ferguson’s solo is POTENT; very tuneful, and his best of the lot. “But Beautiful” defines that word: everyone’s there but you only hear Kenny. The style of his ‘Fifties ballads, with the tone as well; you can’t do better. The crowd agrees.
The title says “Makin’ Whoopee” but it’s all manner of things. The theme dispatched quickly, we get seven slow minutes of “Billie’s Bounce”, warm chords, and a big ol’ bass. The ending is truly special. “Come Rain or Come Shine” meditates quietly, so light he seems to play an acoustic. Again the theme is mostly hinted; again his tenderness makes that irrelevant. You’re hearing the sound, not the song, and that is enough. And fall under the “Magic Spell”: and opening like “Still of the Night”, and a mood that embraces. Hear how he speaks Latin — that solo could fit on “Besame Mucho”. And don’t forget Ferguson; the cymbals roll in like the fog. The last thing you hear is a mournful bow, and fans having their say. My say is: get this. You’ll like it if you like Burrell.
Rating: *** 3/4. You might want to play Disc Two first; most of the top ballads are there. A minor quibble — some people prefer Kenny without distortion; I’m one of those. Here he uses it well, and many tracks leave off the fuzz entirely. Try “Work Song”, “Still of the Night”, Pent-Up House”, “But Beautiful”, “Makin’ Whoopee”, and “Magic Spell”. Man, he’s damn good.
Songs: Second Balcony Jump; Willow Weep for Me; Work Song; Woody ‘n You?; Introduction of Kenny Burrell by Max Gordon; In the Still of the Night; Medley: Don’t You Know I Care?/Love You Madly; It’s Getting Dark; Pent-Up House; But Beautiful; Bags’ Groove; Makin’ Whoopee; Come Rain or Come Shine; Love, Your Magic Spell is Everywhere.
Musicians: Kenny Burrell (guitar); Larry Gales (bass); Sherman Ferguson (drums).
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