Prime: Live at the Downtown Roomby Kenny Burrell
This flashback album, a previously unreleased recording of the Kenny Burrell quartet performed at the Statler Hotel's Downtown Room in Buffalo, NY, comes into the marketplace 43 years after it was documented on reel-to-reel magnetic tape. As such, the sound quality is not state of the art, with Burrell's guitar a bit muffled, but the overall sound of this highly skilled group, with drummer Lennie McBrowne, bassist Lisle Atkinson, and pianist Richard Wyands, is still quite good. You hear original songs Burrell played in the '60s and '70s, standard fare, and all the reasons why Burrell has to be considered as the greatest mainstream guitarist in the second half century of jazz. It's great to once again hear Burrell's classic "Isabella," originally recorded on his underappreciated album from the Cadet label The Tender Gender circa 1966. The sweet soul oozing from this modal piece, with Atkinson's booming bass and Native American cum Latin rhythms, marks this an outstanding composition that has endured and aged well. "Common Ground," a basic blues with a somewhat similar stance to "Bags Groove," is another Burrell fan favorite, unearthed from his late-'60s Verve LP of the same name. But Burrell's forte lies in the beauty he can extract from classics such as "A Child Is Born" with an easy, unforced, natural swing, and especially for the true ballad "God Bless the Child" where every single note is lovingly rendered and resonant in the hands of this master jazz guitarist. Burrell is also adept in baking funky whole wheat groove biscuits à la "Do What You Gotta Do" from his CTI years, stewed in a bop foundation like his peer Wes Montgomery. The final track is a solo recording at a Los Angeles Duke Ellington memorial concert in 2006, as he interprets "Single Petal of a Rose" with the slow, patient precision of a lover in wait finally attaining the sweetness of a first kiss. A commendation needs to be bestowed on High Note records for the process to finally have released these precious sessions from Burrell and this excellent quartet. A tip of the hat is also in order for one of his very best groups in terms of their cohesion and sheer talent, beyond all-star groupings on other acclaimed recordings led by the guitarist.
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