This 75th birthday bash for and with guitar master Kenny Burrell brought together his quintet with Hammond B3 maestro Joey DeFrancesco and flute virtuoso Hubert Laws as special guests. As if that wasn’t juice enough for an evening, for the first half dozen sides of this gala, Burrell had an historic meeting with the Gerald Wilson Orchestra. The opener, a Wilson tune, “Viva Tirado,” is an undulating orchestral explosion into which Burrell jumps with his unique brand of happy blues. The big band’s wall of brass sound complements rather than overwhelms Burrell’s hotly elegant chords.
The set includes two vocals by Burrell, including an especially appealing “Stormy Monday”; his sound is light, easy, gravelly, welcoming and absolutely irresistible. A Burrell-DeFrancesco duet on “I’ll Close My Eyes” is dedicated to Jimmy Smith, with whom the guitarist recorded the tune in 1965. The luminous flute work by Hubert Laws on a haunting rendition of “Lament” recalls the years he and Burrell spent as a part of Creed Taylor’s allstar group.
In a simpler setting with guitar, bass and drums, Burrell weaves his way through Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” displaying a dazzling level of harmonic sophistication. A bit later his reading of Miles Davis’ “All Blues” is as concise as it is lyrical. The inclusion of three Duke Ellington tunes as well as Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train” are appropriate since Burrell was Ellington’s first jazz guitarist. The Wilson orchestra provides especially shimmering backup for Burrell on “Sophisticated Lady.”
There was a fair amount of Ellington as well for Burrell’s gig at Dizzy’s in early September 2008, his first New York appearance in eight years. Burrell came with a group of heavy hitters all: Benny Green (piano), Peter Washington (bass) and Clayton Cameron (drums) plus a newcomer, Tivon Pennicott, on saxophone and flute.
There couldn’t have been a better background than the peerless glow of the Manhattan skyline for a solo by Green on Cole Porter’s “Everytime We Say Goodbye.” It made this listener wish he would do a session of Porter tunes. Switching from pretty, a jump tune, “Mark II,” provided an opportunity for Green to swing and swing. Pennicott had the room listening breathlessly to his long solo on “In A Sentimental Mood.” And Washington, whom Burrell said Max Roach called “...an MPI, a multiple percussion instrumentalist,” beat it out in a fashion that had the audience cheering. Through it all, both on the recording and live, Burrell, solid and shining, continues providing musical mortar that joins all of the parts.
Track Listing: Viva Tirado; Stormy Monday/Blues For the Count; Romance; Love You Madly; Sophisticated Lady; Don't Get Around Much Anymore; Footprints; Lament; All Blues; A Night in Tunisia; I'll Close My Eyes; Take The 'A' Train.
Personnel: Kenny Burrell: guitar and vocals; The Gerald Wilson Orchestra; Hubert Laws: flutes; Jeff Clayton: alto sax; Herman Riley: tenor sax; Joey DeFrancesco: organ; Roberto Miranda: bass, congas; Clayton Cameron: drums.