Bruce Forman: Reunion!

Barney Kessel's Poll Winners albums are saluted - Forman, Clayton and Hamilton even using instruments played by the original personnel


I first heard Bruce Forman on the 1981 Tokyo Madness CD with the extrovert Richie Cole quintet where he was featured at length on a barnstorming Lady Bird. He and the group threw the kitchen sink at Tadd Dameron’s classic for an unforgettable album highlight.

The intimate setting he has chosen here reflects yet another side of his musicality. John Koenig (Les’s son) highlights in his sleeve-note the unusual circumstances surrounding the recording which came about when Forman acquired Barney Kessel’s Gibson ES-350 guitar. They had often played together and Kessel had become something of a mentor to Forman, who particularly admired the Poll Winners albums Barney did with Ray Brown and Shelly Manne for Contemporary Records.

Quite by chance John Clayton, who had studied with Ray Brown, owned one of the great man’s instruments and Jeff Hamilton managed to acquire a set of Shelly Manne’s drums for this recording. What we have here, therefore, is a unique homage to the legendary poll-winners performed on their original instruments. 

Apart from Green Dolphin Street the group ignore material from the Contemporary albums. They concentrate on standards together with an intriguing set of Forman originals which includes Hammer’s Back In Town. Based on Lulu’s Back In Town, it has a hint of Monk’s Little Rootie Tootie in the coda. Kurt Weill’s This Is New opens with a reference to Kessel’s famous 1955 Cry Me A River introduction for Julie London’s hit. April In Paris acknowledges Wild Bill Davis’s Count Basie chart complete with the famous shout chorus while saluting Thad Jones’ original solo along the way. Special mention should be made of Forman’s formidable technique, especially on his melodic examination of Stardust. It’s worthy of a Joe Pass – an acknowledged influence.

Rope-A-Dope; This Is New; Feel The Burn; Gravy Waltz; Barney’s Tune; April In Paris; Hammer’s Back In Town; BRS; Stardust; Green Dolphin Street; The Daze; Love Potion No.9 (46.41)
Forman (elg); John Clayton (b); Jeff Hamilton (d). Los Angeles, July 2021.
B4Man Music B4M-106