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Kenny Burrell 75th Birthday Bash Live! Review

Live. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

The Blue Note guitar legend celebrates his birthday with some celebrity pals...

John Eyles 2007

Recorded in July 2006 to celebrate Kenny Burrell’s 75th birthday, this album is a fine showcase of his guitar playing and singing, as well as a brief résumé of his career to date. It packs a lot into its sixty-five minutes. Burrell’s best known and most admired work was in the 60s for Blue Note, and his Ellington Is Forever albums in the 70s, and both periods are well represented here.

On the album’s opening six tracks (of twelve) Burrell is joined by the big band of Gerald Wilson, which provides a launch pad for some typically tight guitar solos employing both chording and single notes. “Stormy Monday” is a well-chosen piece to showcase Burrell’s urbane blues playing; it also allows the band a nod to Count Basie’s powerhouse blues style. Four of the album’s tracks - three with the orchestra - are associated with Ellington, reflecting the mutual respect between the two; Ellington once named Burrell as his favourite guitarist. Being the longest of the four, “Sophisticated Lady” is narrowly the pick of the bunch. As with the best of Burrell’s Duke tributes, he retains the essence of the original whilst imbuing it with vitality.

Fans of the Blue Note period will find the last six tracks much to their liking. An eleven minute version of “A Night In Tunisia” is essentially a series of solos – from Jeff Clayton on alto sax, Herman Riley on tenor, Joey Francesco on organ, Burrell, and Clayton Cameron on drums – that steadily raise the excitement level, until the piece ends with a storming ensemble climax, driven by Burrell. On J. J. Johnson’s languid “Lament”, Hubert Laws fluent flute steals the track, allowing Burrell to show his skills as an accompanist. A trio with Francesco and Cameron, playing “I’ll Close My Eyes”, recalls Burrell’s days as a key part of organist Jimmy Smith’s group.

The album’s highlight is a wonderfully laid-back reading of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” which displays all of Burrell’s greatest virtues – a mellow tone, economy of expression, feeling in every note and seemingly effortless swing; he makes it all sound so easy!

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