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Barney Kessel: Barney Kessel: The First Four Albums

Mark Barnett By

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Kessel's version is an exercise in suspense. He teases us with the unexpected, then gives us what we've been wanting all along, then teases again. The roller coaster ride is exhilarating. Right from the start, he flirts with the melody, surprising us with a bit of dissonance and depriving us of a steady beat. "Okay, when does it start?" we're thinking. At 0:43, we think we're getting the answer as he begins to give us our jazz fix with a regular beat, but he reverts almost immediately to rhythm-less dissonance. At 1:03, we get what we've been waiting for, an extended, improvised guitar solo over a solid jazz beat, and then at 1:45, a very nice solo on bass clarinet. At 2:10 a piano solo, and then at 2:30, various combinations of instruments create more delightful dissonance. At 2:51, a Shelly Manne drum roll seems to say, "Okay, enough of this, let's play some jazz." Bang, the ensemble plays the melody straight and in unison, giving us a nice sense of release, and that continues to the end of the track.

Track 22, "Fascinating Rhythm"

This great, happy Gershwin tune, written in 1924, seems to have been made for jazz, and its best vocal interpretations are by Mel Torme. Before proceeding to Kessel, listen to the recording Torme made with the Marty Paich Dektette.

Kessel begins his version with the same tantalizing approach he used in "Mountain Greenery," giving us a stretch of rhythm, then taking it away, then bringing it back. And all the while, Shelly Manne's drumming keeps the whole thing glued together.

At 0:44, a solid jazz beat takes over, with an extended guitar solo that seems a bit anticlimactic after all the opening fireworks. At 1:49, it's back to complex ensemble playing until the end.

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