Kenny Burrell: Four Classic Albums

The virtuoso of quiet guitar is heard on the albums Earthy, Kenny Burrell, On View At The Five Spot Café and A Night At The Vanguard


It’s rare indeed to get so much class for your money. Burrell a quiet virtuoso, has been my favourite guitarist for years. Apart from his eloquence, he’s also gifted in choosing who he works with, from Gil Evans to Gillespie and Coltrane.

This set is determinedly mainstream, and is the best in the idiom that I’ve heard for years. Kenny’s democratic when he leads a group and the first album here, Earthy, brings out the best in everyone – I’ve never heard McKusick play this well, sounding like a silky Charlie Parker, and Farmer’s delicately developed improvisations are his trade mark.

Cohn had just emerged as a confident major soloist and like all the horns and the leader benefits from the hugely resonant bass of Kotick, one of the best of the time. Although Earthy is billed as a jam session (the fast-flowing Dayee is over 14 minutes) the music is carefully plotted.

There’s more great bass, this time from Watkins, on the second album here, titled Kenny Burrell. How does a modest man dazzle? Burrell does throughout these tracks. Yet again I encounter beautifully articulated baritone from Payne from long ago. His solo on Drum Boogie is amongst his best. How on earth did this chestnut get revived? Kenny eats it up, shedding rivers of mastery in a ceaseless flow of ideas.

Jazz is fortunate that Burrell spent so much of his career tutoring others. On the remaining two sets Ben Tucker and Richard Davis continue to demonstrate that only the best need apply to back the giant. Kenny continues his eloquence and on On View At The Five Spot Café gives space for welcome solos from the rarely heard Tina Brooks.

Timmons plays on three tracks on On View and his universal range permits a hefty nudge at Erroll Garner on Birks’ Works – a fiery solo indeed. The trio holds sway for the final eight tracks, done at the Village Vanguard, and confirms that the trio is Kenny’s best setting. Davis and Haynes seem to be perfect.

After an amazing career, Kenny has entered an old age fraught with illness and misadventure. It’s to be hoped that he’s able to extract some peace out of life.

CD1: [Earthy] (1) Earthy; What’s Not; I Wouldn’t; The Front Line; Dayee; [Kenny Burrell] (2) Don’t Cry, Baby; Drum Boogie; Strictly Confidential; All Of You; Perception (80.08)
CD2: [On View At The Five Spot Café] (3) Birks’ Works; Hallelujah; Lady Be Good; Lover Man; 36-23-36; [A Night At The Vanguard] (4) All Night Long; Will You Still Be Mine?; I’m A Fool To Want You; Trio; Broadway; Soft Winds; Just A-Sittin’ And A-Rockin’; Well You Needn’t (79.10)
Kenny Burrell (g) with:
(1) Art Farmer (t); Hal McKusick (as); Al Cohn (ts); Mal Waldron (p); Teddy Kotick (b); Ed Thigpen (d). Hackensack, NJ, 25 January 1957.
(2) Cecil Payne (bar); Tommy Flanagan (p); Doug Watkins (b); Elvin Jones (d). Hackensack, NJ, 1 February 1957.
(3) Tina Brooks (ts); Bobby Timmons, Roland Hanna (p); Ben Tucker (b); Art Blakey (d). Five Spot Cafe, NYC, 25 August 1959.
(4) Richard Davis (b); Roy Haynes (d). Village Vanguard, NYC, 16 & 17 September 1959.
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