Russell Malone – Look Who’s Here
Look Who’s Here
(Verve – 2000)
by Sidney Bechet-Mandela
Malone is Mr. Fluidity on guitar. If his hands were faucets, his strings would be water. This is a guitarist who not only writes exciting angular lines, but can wrap his hands around a ballad so tightly that the melody, let alone the solos, drip with emotion. And boy, those solos. There’s aren’t many improvisers out there who can instantaneously whip out a solo with enough hooks to write pop tunes. But that is the case with this Georgia peach of a guitarist.
After years of toiling, and often stealing the show, from jazz superstars Jimmy Smith, Harry Connick Jr. and Diana Krall, Malone’s career is bound to reach another level with this release that is framed by the steady hand of legendary producer Tommy LiPuma.
“Look Who’s Here” opens with two upbeat original smokers from the guitarist, including the title composition, which more than any tune demonstrate Malone debt to the great ringing style that owes as much debt to southern twangers like Chet Atkins as it does to lyrical be-boppers like Kenny Burrell.
Malone also continues his love affair with Burt Bacharach-Hal David tunes that Wes Montgomery loved, adding “Alfie,” to the list of songs of theirs both he and Montgomery have recorded. It is a modern updating of the movie classic, that is just one of a few standards that gets an invigorating re-working on this album, including a percussive reading of Cole Porter’s “Get Out of Town,” and a version of “An Affair To Remember,” done with such a biting back beat, it could land Malone on (gasp) smooth jazz radio. An if that doesn’t, his contribution to the new standards lexicon, Stevie Wonder’s “You Will Know,” from the movie Jungle Fever,” just might.
Speaking of new standards, both Malone and British guitar wiz, Martin Taylor, have version of Neil Hefti’s 70’s television theme, “The Odd Couple,” on their new albums. In the hands of Malone, this surprisingly hip number is done in a quicker, more straight-forward style than Taylor’s, as if it was Wes Montgomery and Wynton Kelly doing it. Whereas Taylor’s version is done slower, as if it was Eric Gale and Grover Washington, with the melody so disguised, the listener is still trying to think what the tune is by the time the head leads into the solos.
Malone lets you know right away what the tune is, he wants you to listen to what he can do with it.
Barring the almost embarrassing closing vocal track, this is almost a perfect album for both those who know and adore Malone, and those who are just getting to know him. It is definitely his best record since he left Columbia Records in the mid-90’s’