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The Harry Smallenburg Quartet: Live at the Balzac (2002)

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No stars How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

The musicians on this album are all new to me, but they're clearly not new to Jazz, as each one carries out his assignment with the dexterity and assurance of players who've been around the block more than once. Vibraphonist Harry Smallenburg, who leads the quartets (guitarist Allen Kelinski, bassist Bill Casale and drummer Jim Miller replace the regulars on Miles Davis' "All Blues"), has an easygoing, Milt Jackson-like style that serves him well on this program of well-known Jazz and pop standards recorded in concert at a coffee / sandwich restaurant, The Balzac, in Azusa, CA (immortalized by the incomparable Mel Blanc [a.k.a. Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, et al] on Jack Benny's radio program in the '40s with the memorable announcement, "Train now leaving on track nine for Anaheim, Azusa and Cuc . . . amonga . . ."). If you?re old enough to remember that you must be a retiree, as I am. The session evinces an impromptu spirit, much as one would expect when a group of like-minded musicians comes together to jam. Smallenburg and his colleagues tarry long enough to examine closely each of the seven tunes (Henry Mancini's "Moon River" is the briefest at 6:47), giving everyone ample blowing space. The songs are familiar, tempos generally moderate to leisurely (with Kenny Dorham's "Blue Bossa" taken at the fastest clip), the music's flow interrupted only occasionally by polite applause. Recording quality is good, playing time acceptable, but there are no liner notes to speak of, nor is there a label or any contact information, which could make finding a copy arduous, as it's unlikely to be stocked by Tower Records or any of the other popular retail outlets. This is a good-natured blowing session, certainly better than some we've heard, but other than serving as a keepsake for those who were there, it's hard to understand why it was recorded.

Track Listing: Well You Needn't; Moon River; Just Friends; Where or When; All Blues; On the Street Where You Live; Blue Bossa (57:51).

Personnel: Harry Smallenburg, vibes; Tom Bethke, Allen Kelinski (5), guitar; Baba Elefante, Bill Casale (5), bass; Steve Sykes, Jim Miller (5), drums.

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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