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Benny Green/Russell Malone: Bluebird

Pianist Benny Green and guitarist Russell Malone are contemporary jazz musicians in the best sense of the term; great musicians whose repertoire includes blues, soul, pop, bop, Afro-Latin and even hip-hop. There’s no rap on Bluebird, but almost everything else is present, from the funky framework of Milt Jackson’s “Reunion Blues” to the tremendous reworking of Charlie Parker’s “Passport” to Stevie Wonder’s playful “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.”

Malone’s playing on “It’s Alright With Me,” “Bluebird” and “Passport” are fluid and fast. Though still greatly influenced by both Grant Green and George Benson, Malone has also developed his own voice to the point that there’s very little of either guitarists’ sound reflected in his phrasing on such songs as “Feel Like Makin’ Love” or “Moonglow,” and his work on Oscar Peterson’s “Wheatland” and Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” rivals anything his predecessors might have done on the same numbers.

Green’s early albums were erratic affairs in which he’d dazzle on some songs and bore on others, but that’s no longer the case. He proves the ideal partner for Malone, perfectly gauging when he should challenge him and when to lie back on dreamy ballads while providing stirring accompaniment and playing on “Flowers for Emmett Till.” But a sure sign of his maturity is the employment of stride influences midway on “Who Can I Turn To?” something that gives the song punch. Similarly, he injects some rhythmic drive or humorous inserts from other songs into his solos on “Moonglow” and “Love for Sale.”

While duo discs certainly aren’t for everyone, this pairing of Benny Green and Russell Malone proves to be a most enjoyable and welcome date.

Originally Published