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August/September 2009

Kenny Burrell
Prime: Live at the Downtown Room
HighNote Records

Prime Kenny Burrell? Not really. But that doesn’t make the surfacing of this 1976 club recording any less welcome. Taped at the Downtown Room in Buffalo, N.Y., six of the seven performances that comprise Prime find the guitar master working with a trio of thoroughly compatible colleagues: pianist Richard Wyands, bassist Lisle Atkinson and drummer Lennie McBrowne. The sound quality is merely adequate, and several of the tunes will be familiar to Burrell buffs. But then again, the album’s rewards are familiar, too.

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William Claxton

Kenny Burrell

For starters, there isn’t a performance here that doesn’t benefit in one way or another from Burrell’s trademark blues sensibility. Whether it’s a moving recital of “God Bless the Child” (prefaced by a personal reminiscence of Billie Holiday), or an octaves-powered 12-bar romp (à la “Common Ground,” one of three Burrell compositions gathered here), the performances are uniformly distinguished by the guitarist’s soulful touch. Among the highlights is Burrell’s distinctive interpretation of “A Child Is Born.” Initially played in slow free time, it evolves into a brisk waltz that allows ample room for Atkinson and Wyands to shine, with the latter contributing a vibrantly melodic improvisation.

Adept at making a piano-guitar alliance appear less problematic than it is, Wyands is in fine form throughout the album, always mindful of Burrell’s intentions. As for the bonus track, a 2008 solo acoustic concert performance of “Single Petal of a Rose,” it certainly qualifies as prime Burrell, a lovely, harmonics-laced coda that invites repeat spins.

Originally published in August/September 2009
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