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Red Garland: Swingin’ on the Korner: Live at Keystone Korner

Chris M. Slawecki By

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It's often been written about many (sometimes less deserving) artists, but in his case it's genuinely true: Pianist Red Garland played on too many classic jazz albums—especially in bop quintets led by Miles Davis and John Coltrane—to fully count. Swingin' on the Korner, a 1977 trio date with bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Philly Joe Jones recorded live at Keystone Korner, adds one more title to this uncountable list. Swingin' reunites Garland with drummer Jones, who teamed with Garland and bassist Paul Chambers in the engine room of the first great Miles Davis quintet, but captures the only time that these three jazz heavyweights performed together. It is also the first and only release of these exceptional performances.

"I was determined from the start to build the most exhaustive package ever created for Garland that truly celebrates his memory," explains Zev Feldman, who co-produced this two-disc set with Todd Barkan, who owned the Keystone Korner at the time of this performance. "There's never been a book on Red and this is the closest there is. We built this and I couldn't be more proud. He deserves it."

Just like there are too many great albums, there are almost too many highlights on this set to count. Highlights from disc one include "Billy Boy," classic piano trio bebop that first appeared on Davis' landmark Milestones (1958, Columbia), through which Garland's fingers first scurry like a mouse frantically searching for misplaced cheese, then roar with fully-voiced chords; an elegant and stately slow dance with the ballad "It's Impossible"; and the perfectly titled "Blues in Bebop," painted in notes that come straight from the blues gutbucket but skipping and hopping in the energetic and sharp rhythms of bebop.

Disc two is programmed around jazz pillars constructed by Thelonious Monk, Mel Torme and Milt Jackson, and proves even more fruitful. Much like its composer, Garland picks up small melodic fragments of Monk's "Straight, No Chaser" and explores them from multiple directions, but he also keeps swirling notes around its melodic center to help the bass and drums more deeply dig their rhythmic groove. In "On a Clear Day," Garland's piano bounces through his unaccompanied first verse like a bright Dave Brubeck sunrise, and he swaddles "The Christmas Song" in soft jazz and blues with a touch of Cedar Walton (plus a charming closing quote from "The Little Drummer Boy").

The Jackson homage "Bags' Groove" pulls out all the stops. This sneaky cool mixture of jazz, blues and funk not only captures the spirit of its namesake but of Garland's smooth but strong piano sound, and may have been the perfect tune for not only this pianist, but for this trio.

This reviewer is not a pianist. But Benny Green is, and the pianist's reflections that Green shares in its liner notes comprise the best conclusion from Swingin' on the Korner: "What is consistent in Red Garland's piano playing throughout the expanse of his two-chapter solo recording career—from A Garland of Red in 1956 through Misty Red in 1982—is the way Red Garland touches the piano. The sound and feeling achieved reveal him as a perennial romantic—time and again, there's Red playing sexy and hip, warm as the sun but somehow so gentle and so inviting. Every note he plays seems in service of disarming his lover into submission. He is so slick and economical, so earthy and ultimately happy and life-affirming."

Track Listing: CD1: Love for Sale; I Wish I Knew; It’s Impossible; Billy Boy; Dear Old Stockholm; If, I’m Lucky; Blues in Bebop; On Green Dolphin Street. CD2: Straight, No Chaser; On a Clear Day; The Christmas Song; The Best Things in Life are Free; Never Let Me Go; Autumn Leaves; Bag’s Groove; It’s All Right with Me/The Theme.

Personnel: Red Garland: piano; Leroy Vinneger: bass; “Philly” Joe Jones: drums.

Title: Swingin’ on the Korner: Live at Keystone Korner | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Elemental Music

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