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Benny Green/Russell Malone: Jazz at the Bistro

Chemistry-that’s the key to the success of this album. Not to overlook the instinct for swinging rhythmically and an uncanny ability to stay out of each other’s way harmonically. No need for drums or bass, although this live CD’s dedicatee, “dear friend and teacher” Ray Brown, is the only one who could have contributed anything meaningful to this match made in jazz heaven.

These young giants are always on the same page, and it seems that each page is meticulously arranged so that guitar and piano hardly ever play chords simultaneously, best exemplified by “The Intimacy of the Blues,” where Malone doubles the lead of Green’s block chords. (Curiously, an alternative take of that Strayhorn melody line is included.) On “Tale of the Fingers,” the tricky bop head is stated to perfection in unison, then each goes his way, with Malone providing an excellent bass line for Green’s solo. But on “A Bientot,” when Green opts for stride, Malone simply cuts out. “Sing” starts out innocently, but Green’s walking line ignites Malone and the tune reaches a swinging internal climax. Conversely, Cannonball Adderley’s “Wabash” starts out as a funky swinger and maintains the momentum all the way, Malone filling his solo with banjo licks.

That’s as raucous as it gets: poetry wins out over passion. Tunes such as “When Lights Are Low,” Green’s etude in arpeggios, “Quiet Girl,” Malone’s folkish “Hand-Told Stories” (for Tommy Flanagan) and particularly “Killing Me Softly” draw equally appreciative raves from the crowd at the Bistro, in St. Louis.

Originally Published