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I don’t know how the Jazz Heritage All–Stars were chosen, but can’t quarrel with the results of the vote or whatever was involved. Leader Kenny Burrell’s credentials are unimpeachable, and everyone else on this concert date from July ’96 at New York’s Blue Note nightspot is a remarkably accomplished musician. While Burrell’s mellow guitar is the focal point, he generously shares the playing time with his superlative sidemen and provides a supple cushion for guest vocalists Jeannie Bryson and Vanessa Rubin. Burrell sings too (and quite well), on “Dear Ella,” a warmhearted tribute to “the first lady of song,” as Burrell describes the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald. Bryson, accompanied only by Burrell on “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” is sexy to the max, but wanders occasionally off–key. Rubin, with the full rhythm section behind her on “All Blues,” stays in the pocket and gives Miles’ tune a charming ride to the checkered flag. The instrumental tracks are, like Burrell himself, cordial and easygoing with only Strayhorn’s “A Train” accerating beyond a measured canter. Happily, Burrell and his teammates can swing hard at any tempo, as they prove beyond a doubt on Chick Corea’s “Tones for Joan’s Bones,” Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” Dizzy Gillespie’s “Birk’s Works” and Jerome Richardson’s “Groove Merchant,” none of which is a bona fide chops–buster. The medley of “Embraceable You” and Bird’s “Quasi Modo,” based on its changes, has Burrell playing alone on the former before everyone comes on board for “Quasi Modo.” There are pleasing solos along the way by Richardson (flute or tenor), Owens and Turre, while Hanna, Drummond and Ferguson hold everything in place like Elmer’s Glue–All (and for a textbook model in comping, check out Hanna on almost any track). A pleasant, well–framed session that’s never less than entertaining.
Track listing: Tones for Joan’s Bones; The Entertainer; Medley: Embraceable You, Quasi Modo; Dear Ella; Birk’s Works; I’ve Got a Crush on You; Take the “A” Train; All Blues; Groove Merchant (64:18).
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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