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Benny Green: Kaleidoscope

Douglas Payne By

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One must suppose the folks at Blue Note strive to uphold a certain tradition. Kaleidoscope seems to fit the bill; yet, like Benny Green's other Blue Note releases, it's all rather too derivative. The pianist clearly fares better as an accompanist (Ray Brown, Freddie Hubbard and many singers) where his sensitivity to style is an asset. Here, as always, the musicianship is professional and features a first-rate cast including Antonio Hart (alto sax), Russell Malone (guitar), Ron Carter (bass) Lewis Nash (drums) and (briefly) Stanley Turrentine on tenor sax. But in the long run, it all seems locked into too many memories of Blue Note glories from the past to be worthwhile on its own merits.

The intricate (and, after a while, annoying) "Kaleidoscope" is sort of reminiscent of much of Andrew Hill's Blue Note work from the mid 60s. For some reason, this exercise-like tune gets two extended playings - one to get it all started and one to wrap it all up. The pretty "Soft Center" starts off mixing McCoy Tyner with The Prisoner -era Herbie Hancock, but as Green gets more interesting, he injects a few touches that will remind many of Gene Harris. "The Sexy Mexy," surprisingly the third track on the disc, has the funk feel of many Blue Note hits like Kenny Dorham's "Una Mas" and some of Lee Morgan's post "Sidewinder" album headers. Things start making sense on the piano/bass duet, "Patience," and the piano/bass/guitar of "My Girl Bill." Here one is reminded of the empathy shared between Bill Evans and Eddie Gomez. But one senses Ron Carter is the driving energy of creativity and unity in this group - and the poetically fluid guitarist Russell Malone adds much to the group's overall `kaleidoscope.' Together, Carter and Malone give this Green's conceptions an interesting twist to the legacies of Nat King Cole and Oscar Peterson. Stanley Turrentine has a pretty sax/piano feature on "You're My Melody," but it would have been nice to hear the tenor player as part of the full sextet. In the end, this encapsulates the problem with this disc. It feels as if it's filled more with a few good ideas than one memorable performance.


Title: Kaleidoscope | Year Released: 1997 | Record Label: Blue Note Records


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