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January/February 2007

Russell Malone
Live at Jazz Standard, Vol. 1
MaxJazz

After eight recordings as a leader—beginning with his self-titled Columbia debut back in 1991—Russell Malone’s credentials have been well-established. He is indeed one of the top-shelf players and celebrated chopsmeisters on the jazz-guitar scene today. This live outing documents his working quartet—pianist Martin Bejerano (formerly of Roy Haynes’ quartet) and newcomers Jonathan Blake on drums and Tassili Bond on bass—stretching out on a set of originals and two well-chosen covers in Frank Rosolino’s lovely waltz “Blue Daniel” and Milt Jackson’s hauntingly beautiful ballad “Heartstrings.”

On the Latin-tinged opener, “He Said What?,” Malone showcases his melodic penchant along with his inherent bluesiness and infinite capacity to burn. He stretches adventurously on the open-ended swinging blues “I Saw You Do It,” providing some dazzling and original six-string flourishes along the way that go beyond the Wes-Benson school to some other realm. His adeptness as a composer is revealed on the affecting “Flirt,” which bears both clever polyrhythmic devices and soulful R&B elements along with a simple, catchy melody. And for sheer burn, there is the aptly named “Mean Streak,” a runaway uptempo romp in which Malone bears down with his band and unleashes his blazing chops. For his spirited closer, “Malone Blues,” the guitarist showcases his nastiest licks along with some choice Chet Atkins tricks in an unaccompanied setting before the band joins him at the two-minute mark. From there his raucous roadhouse instincts kick in, all hell breaks loose and suddenly it sounds like Fat Possum night at the Jazz Standard. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Russell played the last portion of that grinding, grungy blues with his Gibson box behind his head, a la T-Bone Walker.

Originally published in January/February 2007
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