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Kenny Burrell: Prime: Live at the Downtown Room

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Guitarist Kenny Burrell remains one of the few living jazz giants to emerge from the hard bop movement of the mid-1950s. Set to turn 79 this summer [2010], Burrell still occasionally performs, when he isn't too busy with his position as Head of Jazz Studies at UCLA, including a week at Yoshi's that was culled into 75th Birthday Bash Live! (Blue Note, 2006). Prime: Live at the Downtown Room showcases six straight-ahead cuts recorded live at a Buffalo club in January 1976. As a bonus, the album also includes a 2006 solo guitar reading of Duke Ellington's lovely "Single Petal of a Rose."

The title of this release contains the word "prime," possibly suggesting that this recording indeed finds Burrell in his prime. Many might argue that Burrell did his best overall work for Blue Note during the late '50s-early '60s. That may be true, but this date shows a musician whose skills had only improved with time.

Joining Burrell on the 1976 portion are Richard Wyands (piano), Lisle Atkinson (bass) and Lennie McBrowne (drums). Each member of Burrell's formidable rhythm section honors the legacy of both Burrell and his myriad legendary collaborators, such as Horace Parlan, Paul Chambers and Art Blakey, respectively.

Highlights include a delightful version of the standard "Will You Still Be Mine" featuring fine soloing from Burrell and Wyands. Burrell also shines on an unusually cheerful reading of "God Bless the Child." What starts as a sensitive interpretation of the classic Billie Holiday ballad soon evolves into an up-tempo swing session.

The sound quality—especially during some of Wyands' solos—doesn't quite rise to the level of that heard on Burrell's Blue Note recordings. However, any lack of sonic perfection lends itself to the overall raw, intimate atmosphere. While enthusiasts will no doubt enjoy this addition to Burrell's canon, it's recommended that newbies start with his 1959 Blue Note live album On View at the Five Spot Café. Once they arrive at this 1976 recording, they will already possess a deeper appreciation for Burrell's talents that will surely enhance the experience.

Track Listing: Isabella; Will You Still Be Mine?; A Child Is Born; COmmon Ground; God Bless the Child; Do What You Gotta Do; Single Petal of a Rose.

Personnel: Kenny Burrell: guitar; Richard Wyands: piano; Lisle Atkinson: bass; Lennie McBrowne: drums.

Title: Prime: Live at the Downtown Room | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: HighNote Records

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