All About Jazz

Home » Articles » CD/LP/Track Review

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

316

Barney Kessel: Exploring The Scene and Workin' Out

By

Sign in to view read count
Back in the 1950's, before jazz was "America's classical music," when it was still a contender among the various genres in American popular music, Barney Kessel was the perennial winner of the guitarist's spot in the jazz polls which various magazines conducted. Readers of Downbeat, Playboy and the long-gone Metronome liked the clear electric timbre, swift runs, rhythmic licks, block chords, clever arranging and mix of standards and originals which were the staples of Kessel's style. Although Kessel's roots in the pre-bop guitar work of fellow Oklahoman Charlie Christian are readily apparent, like all the best of the 1950's players, he brought more to his art than imitation or influence, creating a pleasant and light-hearted music with enough subtlety to keep the fans interested, yet without so much complexity as to alienate the larger group of more casual listeners.

He came up in the 1940's, working in the big bands, settling in Los Angeles, garnering a reputation as an able session man. He picked up on the new sounds the boppers were bringing from New York, contributing several Christian-inspired solos to Charlie Parker's 1947 "Relaxin' at Camarillo" date. Touring with pianist Oscar Peterson in the early 1950's brought him more notice, and he settled into regular studio work with the west coast based labels Verve and Contemporary, including dates with Art Tatum, Benny Carter, Shorty Rogers, Lester Young, Ella Fitzgerald, and Hampton Hawes, among many others: a range of swing, mainstream, and modern players. As a musician popular among listeners as well, Kessel was a leader on quite a few LP's for Contemporary Records, and many of these are making their way into Fantasy's Original Jazz Classics reissue catalogue. Two of the latest are covered here: EXPLORING THE SCENE (1960) and WORKIN' OUT (1961). EXPLORING THE SCENE (OJC Contemporary) is one of several productions by a studio group, The Poll Winners, a trio of Kessel and two others who like Kessel dominated the 1950's magazine polls on their instruments: Ray Brown on bass and fellow Angeleno Shelly Manne on drums. It's the fifth reissued by OJC and features nine compositions by contemporary jazz musicians, ranging from the familiar (Erroll Garner's "Misty") to the less known (John Lewis' "The Golden Striker"). Interestingly enough, they also included a contribution by Ornette Coleman ("The Blessing"), who had just finished a lengthy residence in LA and had led a session including Manne for Contemporary the previous year. Their workout on Miles Davis' "So What" exemplifies their approach: abstracting the melody with percussion and guitar, then playing it straight, then moving into Kessel's solo, which begins with long lines and peaks with rhythmic chords, followed by Brown's solo as Kessel riffs behind him, and finally the two riffing softly as Manne lays on some tasty drumming. Throughout the session, Kessel's frequent block chording is virtuosic without sacrificing any rhythmic excitement. His long single-note lines seem less imaginative to me. Brown with his fat bass sound and Manne with his beautiful clarity are both pictures of precision, and is that a problem? Worked-out settings, easy swing, a great jazz repertoire, and a three-cornered equal partnership on mainly three and four minute selections make for some nice sounds, combining the virtues of west coast arranging and mellowness with small group interaction.

In WORKIN' OUT (OJC Contemporary), Kessel shows a bit of a Coltrane influence, with "My Man's Gone Now" taken at a waltz tempo with a long vamp section, along the lines of Coltrane's "My Favorite Things"; and his own "Pedal Point" likewise in a modal vein. The moods of the tunes vary, as pianist Marvin Jenkins switches to a simple melodic flute for the ballads "My Funny Valentine" and Kessel's "Spanish Scenery," and drummer Stan Popper plays tambourine to emphasize the stomping gospel feel of Jenkins' blues opener "Good Li'l Man." Mostly Kessel is in charge, though, with rapid-fire arpeggios in an up-tempo version of "Summertime," a flamenco-inflected introduction to "Spanish Scenery," and exciting high speed single-note lines and rapid repeated polyrhythmic chords in "Pedal Point." If the piano and guitar solos occasionally seem to fall into blues licks, there's still enough invention to keep this varied program of eight mostly five- and six-minute tracks stimulating. Jenkins, Popper, and bassist Jerry Good may be a little rougher as backup rhythm than Brown and Manne something that could be said of almost any other rhythm section but their arrangements of the tunes are similarly tight, making once again for some pleasant listening.

This review copyright (c) 1998 by Larry Koenigsberg.


Title: Exploring The Scene and Workin' Out | Year Released: 1998 | Record Label: Fantasy Jazz

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Suite 150 / A Big Band Portrait CD/LP/Track Review
Suite 150 / A Big Band Portrait
by Jack Bowers
Published: August 16, 2018
Read Lost Days CD/LP/Track Review
Lost Days
by Don Phipps
Published: August 16, 2018
Read Cabin In The Sky CD/LP/Track Review
Cabin In The Sky
by Chris Mosey
Published: August 16, 2018
Read Higher CD/LP/Track Review
Higher
by Jim Trageser
Published: August 16, 2018
Read Faroe CD/LP/Track Review
Faroe
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: August 15, 2018
Read The Darkness Of A Fairy Tale CD/LP/Track Review
The Darkness Of A Fairy Tale
by Gareth Thompson
Published: August 15, 2018
Read "Glassbath" CD/LP/Track Review Glassbath
by Glenn Astarita
Published: May 6, 2018
Read "Making Other Arrangements" CD/LP/Track Review Making Other Arrangements
by Ian Patterson
Published: April 25, 2018
Read "Schlitten" CD/LP/Track Review Schlitten
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: October 24, 2017
Read "Space Is The Place" CD/LP/Track Review Space Is The Place
by James Fleming
Published: May 21, 2018
Read "The 1960 Sessions with George Duvivier and Max Roach" CD/LP/Track Review The 1960 Sessions with George Duvivier and Max Roach
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: November 1, 2017
Read "In Stride" CD/LP/Track Review In Stride
by Barry O'Sullivan
Published: January 29, 2018