The complete title of this carefree and charming studio date is Chuck Redd Remembers Barney Kessel. The reasons why are many. Here are two: first, Redd worked with Kessel from 1980-91 as a drummer in the Great Guitars group and in Kessel's trio, during which time the two became close friends; even more than that, says Kessel's widow, Phyllis, Redd was "like another son" to her husband. As for the album's title, Redd writes, Kessel's watchword to the end of his life was "I am happy all the time."
To sharpen the tribute and ensure its success, Redd called on a number of Kessel's friends and admirers including guitarists Howard Alden and Gene Bertoncini, pianists Monty Alexander and Robert Redd (yes, he's Chuck's brother) and drummer par excellence Jeff Hamilton. Chuck Redd plays vibraphone most of the way, replacing Hamilton at the drum kit on Kessel's "64 Bars on Wilshire" and Neal Hefti's "Li'l Darlin.'" The group's rock-solid bassist is J.J. Shakur. Besides "Wilshire," Kessel wrote "You're the One for Me," "Sweet Baby," "Slow Burn" and what is perhaps his best-known composition, "Swedish Pastry," showing on each one that his talents went far beyond strumming the guitar.
The Redd brothers, Shakur and Hamilton kick things off with a bright-eyed version of Chuck Redd's upbeat "Happy All the Time," which sets the tone for the rest of the session. Everyone solos, and Hamilton is his usual brilliant self on brushes. Alexander replaces Robert Redd on David Raksin's "Laura" (more engaging solos by all hands) and the Julie London hit, "Cry Me a River," whose original recording featured Kessel's exquisite guitar. Kessel arranged Frank Loesser's "Slow Boat to China," a flat-out swinger that precedes the ballad "Tenderly" (Alexander, piano), "You're the One" and the Gershwin brothers' "Our Love Is Here to Stay." Alden is the guitarist on that standard, as he is on "Slow Boat," "Swedish Pastry" and "Wilshire," with Bertoncini doing the honors on "You're the One" and "Li'l Darlin.'"
Kessel wrote the boppish "Swedish Pastry" for clarinetist Stan Hasselgaard who was killed in an accident in 1948 at age twenty-six. Chuck Redd, sounding much like the great Terry Gibbs, solos first, leading to several animated choruses apiece by Alden and Robert Redd and bright four-bar exchanges among the threesome. "Sweet Baby" is a mid-tempo delight, "Wilshire" a busy flag-waver underlined by Chuck Redd's superb brush work and Alden's nimble guitar. Chuck Redd wields the brushes again on "Li'l Darlin,'" then returns to the vibes for the shuffling finale, "Slow Burn." He's terrific on either instrument, but no more so than his hand-picked teammates who fondly remember Barney Kessel with a colorful scrapbook whose every page is persuasive and captivating.
Happy All the Time; Laura; Cry Me a River; On a Slow Boat to China; Tenderly; You’re the One for Me; Our Love Is Here to Stay; Swedish Pastry; Sweet Baby; 64 Bars on Wilshire; Li’l Darlin’; Slow Burn.
Chuck Redd: vibraphone, drums (10, 11); Monty Alexander: piano (2, 3, 5, 12); Robert Redd: piano (1, 4, 6, 8, 9); Howard Alden: guitar (4, 7, 8, 10); Gene Bertoncini: guitar (6, 11); Hassan Shakur: bass; Jeff Hamilton: drums (1-9, 12).
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