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Jimmy Bruno Trio: Live at Birdland – II

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A relentless swinger who thrives on breakneck tempos, Philadelphia’s Jimmy Bruno is one of the premier jazz guitarists on the scene. Having already proved his mettle in the studio with various Concord calling cards, Bruno unveiled his impressive fretboard prowess in a live setting on the first of this two-volume series from New York’s Birdland. Volume I featured Bruno going toe-to-toe with alto sax burner Bobby Watson. Volume II, also recorded in December of 1996, pairs him with the mellow-toned tenor man Scott Hamilton, recalling some of the same incendiary chemistry that Stan Getz and Jimmy Raney shared together during the early ’50s.

The set opens with the trio establishing an urgent vibe with brisk renditions of Bruno’s 12-bar blues “Reticulation” and Clifford Brown’s “Joy Spring.” “Chesapeake Blues” is a mellow, slow vehicle for some inspired and tasteful blue note work by Bruno while his virtuosic solo turn on “(I Can’t Give You) Anything but Love” allows him to explore the full range of his custom-made 7-string Benedetto guitar with deep walking bass lines and simultaneous chording, a la Joe Pass.

Hamilton takes the stage for a swinging “Broadway” and they hit an instant rapport. Bruno’s solo here is particularly breathtaking, full of rippling arpeggios, rhythmically charged octave work and pristine single-note passages. Hamilton wisely follows with a less-is-more approach, taking his time and gradually building on a vocal theme. They have some brief exchanges and meet at the out-head, culminating their first-ever encounter together in high-flying fashion.

Bruno again puts the 7-string to good use on a duet rendition of “Lover Man,” creating a lush carpet for Hamilton’s sublime telling of the story. Hamilton’s old school sense of romantic lyricism (part Ben Webster, part Zoot Sims) is also spotlighted on “Darn That Dream” while his unhurried approach to swing sets a relaxed tone on a lovely “I Hear a Rhapsody.” The set closes on a bristling note with “I Want to Be Happy,” a vehicle for some bravado soloing by both Bruno and Hamilton which culminates in some sparks between this dynamic duo. Hopefully, these two will meet again.