Russell Malone usually doesn't like to write about his recordings, he says, preferring instead "to let the music speak for itself." However, he makes an exception here to point out that this is his first live recording with his working band, a fact that's a little surprising to learn. Malone goes on to note his gratification at being able to make this recording at the Jazz Standard, terming it "one of the finest venues in New York." (Incidentally, several top-shelf CDs recorded there have been reviewed at AAJ.)
One of the great things about a live recording is the opportunity not only to hear the interaction between performer and audience, but also to follow the evolving dynamic of a combo as it moves through a performance. This dynamic can be heard most dramatically on this disc, recorded in early September, 2005. Starting out with a fairly well-behaved number that would have little trouble finding airplay on smooth jazz radio stations, Malone's quartet progresses through increasingly up-tempo tunes to a finale that turns downright rowdy.
The opening tune, "He Said What?," alternates between a three-chord bossa nova vamp and a B section with lush chording. This seems to be a compositional structure favored by Malone: "Flirt" has a similar A/B structurea spare piano leitmotif alternating with rich diatonics. Both tunes feature the tasteful piano work of Martin Bejerano, who sits out for "I Saw You Do It," which combines bluesiness with atonality for an end result that sounds a bit like Wes Montgomery meets John Scofield. Displaying Malone's trademark fluidity and lyricism, it also features a sprightly solo by bassist Tassili Bond.
The next two songs pick up the pace. Frank Rosolino's standard "Blue Daniel," one of two covers, is an energetic swinger with another nice solo by Bonds. "Mean Streak" is flat-out blistering, with impressive solos by Malone, Bejerano and drummer Jonathan Blake.
As if to gather themselves for a final blow-out, the musicians slow down for a hauntingly beautiful rendition of the Milt Jackson ballad "Heartstrings." Evidently, Malone doesn't like to talk much between songs either, but he makes another exception here with a personal testimonial to the song's composer, no doubt due to the presence in the audience of Jackson's widow, Sandy, and their daughter Chyrise.
A critic for the LA Times has described Malone's great strength as his ability to synthesize influences from many sources and produce results that bear his own voice. The kick-ass finale, "Malone Blues," provides ample evidence for this assertion. Malone's solo opening section, after a hint of bluegrass, goes on to evoke Richie Havens and Mississippi John Hurt, before embarking on an unabashed blues romp. At one point, the band enthusiastically cranks out a riff thatwhether intentionally or notis a dead lift from Frank Zappa's infamous "Willie the Pimp"!
This release, which was produced by Malone, not only showcases his versatility as a musician, but also his talents as composer, arranger and bandleader.
Personnel: Russell Malone: guitar; Martin Bejerano: piano; Tassili Bond: bass; Jonathan Blake: drums.