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Wynton Kelly: Piano

C. Michael Bailey By

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Following his debut as a leader on, Wynton Kelly: New Faces -New Sounds (Blue Note, 1951), pianist Kelly surfaced again some seven years later, this time on Riverside Records, with the simply titled Piano. The length of time between leader recordings is a testament to the pianist's value in a supporting role for artists like Dinah Washington (with whom he recorded almost exclusively between 1952 and 1955) Lester Young, and Dizzy Gillespie. During this same period Kelly contributed to several classic recordings, including Sonny Rollins' Volume 1 (Blue Note, 1956); Newk's Time (Blue Note, 1957) and Lee Morgan's Volume 3 (Blue Note, 1957).

While simply entitled Piano, Kelly leads a quartet with guitarist Kenny Burrell added to the historically rock-solid rhythm section of bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones. The addition of Burrell makes for an entertaining and instructive quartet format that helps to define hard bop out of bebop. Burrell's guitar tone and approach foreshadowed Kelly's famous association with guitarist Wes Montgomery seven years later on Smokin' at the Half Note (Verve, 1965).

Piano contains two Kelly originals. "Action" sounds and feels like the hinge between bebop and hard bop. It opens with an intricate head played by Kelly with Burrell doubling him. It is taken at a medium fast tempo over "I Got Rhythm" changes. Outstanding is Paul Chamber's precise, center-note walking, providing the quartet with atomic timekeeping. Chambers solos arco at impressive speed, expressing similarly impressive ideas. Jones puts the hard in bop with his snare bombs and cymbal crashes. The second original, "You Can't Get Away" is a brisk blues performed sans drums. Again, Chambers' importance cannot be overstated, his time is impeccable and swinging, allowing Kelly and Burrell plenty of space..

Two takes of the Russian folk song turned standard, "Dark Eyes" are performed, allowing Burrell to show-off a sweet bit of compchording. The album take is brisk and propulsive. The alternate take contains that little bit of magic one finds in jazz when the band is hitting the head and releasing into the first solo, where Chambers again, understated, but potently evident, guides the performance, spurring Kelly to a greater lyricism before pushing Burrell out into his solo. This is dramatic performance at its best. Chamber's solos on both takes are dead center.

"Whisper Not" features a slinky Burrell accompaniment while Oscar Brown, Jr.'s "Strong Man" is given the full cocktail treatment, again without Jones on drums. The performance is earthy and swinging, rubbing off on a rocking performance of "Ill Wind." Kelly is a year away from Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959) and his explosive three years with Miles Davis, who was approaching the edge of his second great quintet. Durable, malleable, adaptive, Kelly quietly changes how jazz is presented and heard.

Track Listing

Whisper Not; Action; Dark Eyes; Dark Eyes [take 2]; Strong Man; Ill Wind; Don’t Explain; You Can’t Get Away

Personnel

Wynton Kelly: piano; Kenny Burrell: guitar; Paul Chambers: bass, acoustic; Philly Joe Jones: drums.

Album information

Title: Piano | Year Released: 1958 | Record Label: Riverside

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