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Joe, Jr. Kennedy: Accentuate the Positive

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Originally recorded in 1962, it’s curious that it took roughly 37 years for these sessions to see the light of day. Both are eminently agreeable, boasting the work of skilled and often consummate musicians, though perhaps the notion of a jazz violin soloist-despite the obvious precedent of Joe Venuti, Eddie South, Stephane Grappelli, Stuff Smith et. al.-was in ’62 a bit too radical for public consumption. The music is far from controversial, even for the time it was recorded. Are these some sort of basement tapes revelation from Joe Kennedy? Whatever the case may be, they are a pleasure to finally see released.

Befitting its title, there is a very positive vibe and sunny disposition to Accentuate the Positive. Obviously someone must have thought the title track was worth repeating as, much in the manner of current reissues from the vinyl original to the expansive CD format, there are back-to-back takes. The closer, “Be Sure,” a Kennedy original, boasts a swell pizzicato violin attack, and thankfully the session makes clear that Toots Thielemans is not only jazz’s leading harmonicat, but also a skilled guitarist. The cast includes bassists Richard Davis and Art Davis, drummer Grasella Oliphant and Kennedy’s son, Joe lll, contributes the lone new track to the session, where he and dad are joined by bassist Clarence Seay and drummer Bill Ray.

Strings by Candelight is a title that leaves little to the imagination as the gently swinging Kennedy is joined by Hank Jones, Kenny Burrell, Milt Hinton, Osie Johnson, and a 16-piece string ensemble for a session that is a unobtrusive and warm accompaniment to any number of positive activities, not the least of which would be a candlelit dinner for two. No feathers are ruffled; there are no flies in the ointment; nothing but buttery, elegant soul. There is a feeling of standard song form but, save for Cole Porter’s indelible “I Love You,” few of these pieces can truly be called chestnuts. If there’s a drawback, it’s the scanty time of 32:46.