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Benny Green: Kaleidoscope

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Kaleidoscope, which marks the eighth recording of Benny Green as a leader, is not a quantum leap into the throes of the avant garde that the Ornette-ish title may suggest. Green’s knack for infectious blues-inflected compositions and joyous swing is still intact. Kaleidoscope does document the pianist broadening his compositional sensibilities regarding tonalities, rhythmic variations, and even heightened awareness of group interaction and improvisational freedom, resulting in his most refreshing and challenging recording to date.

With the addition of saxophonists Antonio Hart and Stanley Turrentine and guitarist Russell Malone, Green delves into new settings, which at times proves to be some of his most vigorous playing in recent years. The forceful title track, which shifts both in tempos and moods, is perhaps Green at his most perilous. Recalling those defining transitional moments of the ’60s Blue Note artists, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, Kaleidoscope features Green aggressively unfurling through a labyrinth of jagged passages that are forcefully propelled by ace drummer Lewis Nash while saxophonist Hart darts in and out and bassist Ron Carter grounds all the improvisational mayhem with Middle-Eastern textures. Less overt, yet equally rewarding is the charming “My Girl Bill,” which features Green in a trio setting with Malone and Carter, resulting in a harmonically rich and festive display of group interaction. Other noteworthy compositions include the pensive duet with Carter on “Patience,” and the beautifully eerie “Soft Center.”

Kaleidoscope is a wonderful transitional recording that will hopefully lead to even more maturity and risk-taking from one of the most soulful pianists to emerge in the past two decades.