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11/21/11

Kenny Burrell
Tenderly: Solo Guitar Concert
HighNote Records

There are solo recordings and then there are solo recordings. On Tenderly, guitarist, arranger, composer and occasional vocalist Kenny Burrell takes care of everything but the catering. This is a casually paced, evocatively arranged tour de force collecting original tunes, standards and tributes to Billie Holiday, Wes Montgomery, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.

The homages alone are incentive enough to add Tenderly to the shelf. “Remembering Wes,” written by Burrell, says less about Montgomery’s singular technique than it does about Burrell’s affection for the late guitar legend—it’s a poignant, soulful acoustic salute to a dear friend. The Holiday homage offers a medley of three tunes—“No More,” “Don’t Explain” and “But Beautiful”—that have a special place in Burrell’s repertoire, since they recall his studio collaborations with Lady Day. But you needn’t be aware of their close association to appreciate Burrell’s sense of loss while listening to “No More” and “But Beautiful,” in particular, or when witnessing the quiet elegance with which he contrasts melody and harmony throughout.

“What a Wonderful World,” a crowd-pleasing nod to Armstrong, finds Burrell shrewdly adding pedal tones and melodic embellishments to the pop favorite. But it’s no match for Ellingtonia Montage, a seven-tune suite of sorts that begins with “Azure” and ends with “Come Sunday.” Referencing ballads and blues, swing and spirituals, Burrell honors Ellington with artful compression and unmistakable ingenuity before moving on to fresh arrangements of “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” and other delights.

Originally published in November 2011
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