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Portland Jazz Festival: A Celebration of ECM

Kenny Burrell, who made his recording debut back in 1951 with Dizzy Gillespie, has been a major jazz guitarist since arriving in New York in 1956. Along the way he has led 99 albums, helped pioneer the guitar-bass-drums trio, had memorable recordings with John Coltrane, Jimmy Smith, Stanley Turrentine and countless others (including in the pop, rock and studio worlds), had Duke Ellington call him his favorite guitarist and been a professor at UCLA for the past 28 years.

At UCLA, Professor Burrell’s 75th birthday and musical legacy was celebrated onstage by over 70 musicians. Because so many players were scheduled, many just made brief appearances. Anthony Wilson was the first of many guitarists to appear, playing “Kenny’s Sound” (the first of many Burrell originals) in a trio with organist Joe Bagg and drummer Kareem Riggins. Pianist Tamir Hendelman and his trio performed “Bass Face” before Burrell himself appeared with the Jazz Heritage All-Stars, a group that included trumpeter Bobby Rodriguez, trombonist George Bohanon, altoist Jeff Clayton, tenor saxophonist Charles Owens and, on “Do What You Gotta Do,” Hubert Laws on piccolo and flute. Singer Dr. Darryl Taylor sang beautifully in a semi-classical vein on “Listening to the Dawn.” However, Burrell’s three-part suite paying tribute to UN Ambassador Ralph Bunche was dull and the final section had a group of singers, without exaggeration, singing the words “Thank You” at least 50 straight times. That was soon forgotten as Russell Malone came out and played a guitar duet with Burrell on “The Christmas Song” and interacted with drummer Clayton Cameron during “The Little Drummer Boy.” Malone brought out the best in Burrell, really pushing him.

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