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July/August 2007

Kenny Burrell
75th Birthday Bash Live!
Blue Note Records

A memorable night at a concert doesn’t always translate into a recording that holds up over the long haul. But it’s a safe bet this 12-track CD, which captures guitarist Kenny Burrell’s 75th birthday celebration at Yoshi’s in Oakland last summer, will endure. Of course, it helps that there is something inherently timeless about Burrell’s sound, as his early small-combo sessions and memorable Ellington-Strayhorn forays attest. Burrell’s plump tone and blues-tinted lyricism have always transcended passing fashions, and those traits certainly enhance this club date, which features Burrell playing in both intimate and expansive settings.

Given the occasion, it’s no surprise that the arrangements often evoke Burrell’s illustrious past, particularly his pivotal association with the late Jimmy Smith, who inspires a duo version of “I’ll Close My Eyes” embellished by fellow Hammond B3 organist Joey DeFrancesco, and the guitarist’s well-documented fascination with all things Ellington. In fact, the tracks that find Burrell teaming up with the Gerald Wilson Orchestra to salute Ellington and Strayhorn are as welcome as they are inevitable, though the lustrous big-band arrangements of Wilson’s “Viva Tirado,” “Romance“ and “Blues For the Count” aren’t to be missed, either. In addition to DeFrancesco, the small group offerings feature flutist Hubert Laws and showcase Burrell at his economical best on “All Blues” and “Lament.” The party atmosphere prompts Burrell to casually croon now and then, but what really sings here is the sound of his ever-soulful touch and tone.

Originally published in July/August 2007
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