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Guitarist Jimmy Bruno's 1997 release Live at Birdland was widely praised as a masterwork of straight-ahead jazz guitar. Live at Birdland II should garner similar accolades.
Bruno learned jazz guitar by imitating his dad, a well-regarded Philadelphia picker who played with Nat "King" Cole. Today Jimmy Jr. is a dazzling technician often compared to fellow Philadelphian Pat Martino.
Bruno and his trio get off to a sizzling start on this set with the bop-oriented "Reticulation," based on Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm." Whether it's Bruno's cool licks on "Chesapeake Blues," his vertiginous lines on the swinging "Joy Spring," or his fluent solo performance on "(I Can't Give You) Anything But Love," the guitarist plays with incredible dexterity throughout this set of nine standards and one original. Moreover, his impeccable technique never overwhelms the melodic essence of a song.
Bruno is backed beautifully on all 10 cuts by Craig Thomas on bass and Victor Ector on drums. Joining them on the final five tracks is saxophonist Scott Hamilton. Hamilton is the rare forty-something jazzer who has shunned fusion and post-bop for a smoky, swinging sound influenced by Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins. Birdland II marks the first time Bruno and Hamilton have joined forces, and they're a very congenial pair. Together they deliver satisfying interpretations of various standards.
Both musicians are so accomplished that their playing seems almost effortless. "Broadway" swings along with a jaunty city strut, while Hamilton takes the lead on a likeably loose version of "I Hear A Rhapsody." "Lover Man" and "Darn that Dream are mellow and expressive. The CD closes with a fast and furious treatment of "I Want to Be Happy" punctuated by a fireballing Bruno solo mid-way through.
If you like mainstream jazz guitar and haven't yet discovered Jimmy Bruno, Live at Birdland II is a fine introduction.