Kenny Burrell: Lucky So And So
As one of the premier jazz guitaristsand in the estimation of many, as the premier jazz guitarist by virtue of technique, output and memorable recordingsKenny Burrell has created work heard, analyzed, transcribed, taught and enjoyed by legions of educators and aspiring guitarists. Epitomizing exquisite taste on his instrument-whether in an easy swing, balladic sensitivity or a bop feelBurrell has assumed the challenge of performing in so many forms with such sophistication that he understates the difficulty of his work.
Kenny Burrell listeners' appetites never will be sated because his playing is of such a quality that new facets can be discovered with every listening. Since those listeners are familiar with much of his styleits voicings, its improvisational lines, its elevating feelwhat would be left that could surprise them?
Well, Kenny Burrell's singing, for one.
Fellow musicians know about Burrell's ability to craft a song vocally as well as instrumentally. Which makes sense. Burrell's guitar style is so rooted in the vocal traditionwhat with its attention to the phrasing of unspoken words and the development of mini-dramas within a songthat his playing must be guided by singer's awareness of meaning.
Early in his performing career, Burrell sang solo on a Detroit television station, and Burrell has given hints of his interest in vocalizing. In 1960, he sang on his Columbia album, "Weaver Of Dreams." He sang as well on the recent Concord CD, "Love Is The Answer," that highlighted the talents of The Boys Choir Of Harlem. And Burrell sang his own composition, "Dear Ella" (written after the loss of one of his idols), on the Jazz Heritage All-Stars' Concord CD, "Live At The Blue Note." But never before has Burrell decided to sing to the extent that he does on Lucky So And So on four tracks out of ten.
While Lucky So And So is far from a vocal album, the richness of Burrell's voice on so many of the tracks distinguishes it from his past work.
What also distinguishes Lucky So And So is the sensitivity of his backup trio of East Coast musicians. Pianist Onaje Allen Gumbs, in particular, performs with the requisite respect and empathy that would be required to expand upon the harmonic suggestions of Burrell's lines. The CD includes Gumbs' composition, "Too Soon," which contains the same degree of deceptive subtlety as the other tunes. Having worked before with Rufus Reid, Burrell attains the instantaneous perception of Reid's ideas that creates improvisational excellence. Reid steps out on the tune that Burrell wrote for Ray Brown, "Bass Face," as Reid establishes the personality of the tune with his tripleted commentary at the end of the choruses, not to mention the confidence of his extended solo in the middle of the tune. Even though Burrell hadn't worked with Reid's frequent musical associate, Akira Tana, the result nevertheless is a seamlessness that lightly propels the tunes, such as the modified funk beat on "Lucky So And So."
Having been a disciple of Duke Ellington for decades (to the extent that he initiated a course about Ellington's works at UCLA), as is usually the case, Burrell includes a selection of Ellington tunes on Lucky So And So. The surprise is that Burrell had never recorded "In A Sentimental Mood," which of course he now does with grace and harmonic insight.
It seems that even when Burrell isn't singing, his instrument is. His rubato introduction to "Tenderly" suggests the voice of Sarah Vaughan before it breaks loose into a medium-tempo swing emphasizing Burrell's comfort at developing ever-evolving ideas over the familiar changes.
Burrell says in the liner notes that he feels lucky to have been able to carve out a career by doing what he loves. Lucky So And So reminds us that we're lucky as well to have had the good fortune of hearing Kenny Burrell throughout the fifty years of his career.
Track Listing: The Feeling Of Jazz, Tenderly, Bluescape, My Ship, Squeeze Me, In A Sentimental Mood, Too Soon, I'm Glad There Is You, Bass Face, Lucky So And So
Personnel: Kenny Burrell, guitar, vocals; Onaje Allan Gumbs, keybaords; Rufus Reid, bass; Akira Tana, drums