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Barney Kessel: Let's Cook!

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Two sessions, one taste. What makes this special is a magic ingredient – fortune. Barney was called as a sideman for a Benny Carter date, but Benny couldn’t make it. Everyone else was there, so Barney was made the leader, and the tape started rolling. This let him jam with horns of great stature – Ben Webster and Frank Rosolino. The balance is a quintet session with a similar feel. What you get is simple blues, a loose feeling, and a lot of swing. That is to say – what you get is a banquet.

“Let’s Cook!” is a blues with a bridge, Barney showing more twang than normal. Victor Feldman chimes in the vibes, and the mood is set early. Leroy Vinnegar sets up a strong walk, and Feldman does a happy bounce, with a little vibrato and a lot of warmth. Hampton Hawes is cool, with sharp chording and a sound of authority. He marches the blues in: Barney and Victor put in high riffs. Barney’s solo is his usual tone: clean and metallic, with a little bite. There’s a great bit where he runs down the stairs, and the vibe riff starts again. The exchanges are a highlight, with Feldman the winner (the other ain’t bad either.) It’s tougher than we expect from Barney, and he responds to the challenge.

“Time Remembered” is a delicate ballad, handled with the grace it deserves. The theme goes between Barney and Feldman, with Hawes adding insightful suit. It’s a soft and pretty thing, a Poll Winners track with extra musicians. “Just in Time” belongs to Hawes; his gentle solo turns to blues at the end. Victor goes fast, and he turns up the vibrato for a nice cloud of sound. The group ending is nice, and Vinnegar gets a chance to walk. The session is over too soon – and we haven’t gotten to the good stuff yet!

The horn session has a great group feel to it, in spite of being spur-of-the-moment. The tracks, “Tiger Rag” and “Jersey Bounce”, were not planned for the Carter session; what you hear is spontaneous. And what spontaneity: the “Tiger Rag” opening gets an angular treatment, giving this warhorse a new spark. It slows down for a Rosolino interlude, and Barney shows us some blues. It sounds very planned; these guys are listening. And in comes Webster. He gives the theme a passing glance, then sails off with that delicious tone of his. Heaven. Rowles gets rhythmic with some percussive slams; Barney starts comping. Then Rosolino: his buttery tone slides all over the place. He flutters and floats, and Kessel gives him a strong riff. Barney is blue, and tough as well: he chords and bends notes, with plenty of warmth. The shouts from the horns at the finish is priceless. Good show.

“Jersey Bounce” is slower, but with the same feeling. Rosolino gets us started, with a charming drawl. A riff settles in; Frank gets a little stronger. The band punches in a cue, and Barney takes over. Round and clean, he sounds like Kenny Burrell in spots, and gives some delicate figures as the riff comes in strong. Webster surges, in his best moment. The rasp is there, and all of the tenderness. Here the riff gets in the way; Ben doesn’t need help. This is the mother lode, and it’s solid gold. It’s a hard act to follow, and Rowles tries his best: his rolling forms begin to get good as his turn ends. Listen close: the finger pops at the end might be me at home!

The vibes session is good indeed, but if you need jam like I do, you must hear the horns. The moment was magic: Ben and Frank were as “on” as you can get. If you like jams and you like these men, you need this. That’s all I have to say.

Record Label: Fantasy Jazz

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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