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Kenny Burrell: 12-15-78

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This two-CD set, originally recorded by Joe Fields for Muse Records, captures the great guitarist in classic form on a particularly good December night in 1978 at the Village Vanguard. Both discs highlight Burrell’s relaxed approach to swing, his extensive chordal vocabulary and elegant sense of phrasing with an inherent deep blues feeling that far surpasses most other jazz guitarists.

Backed by the highly empathetic rhythm section of Larry Gales on bass and Sherman Ferguson on drums, Burrell travels freely from melodic to harmonic to soloistic roles in their two sets at the Village Vanguard. A fluid and facile improviser, he heats up the bandstand with boppish bravado on uptempo numbers like Dizzy Gillespie’s “Woody’n You” and Sonny Rollins’ “Pent Up House,” done here with a Latin tinge. But he invariably comes back to the blues, as he demonstrates on Milt Jackson’s “Bags’ Groove,” a brilliant reading of “Willow Weep for Me” and his own closing theme song, “It’s Gettin’ Dark.” Burrell’s profoundly blue tendencies are underscored by artful finesse. There’s no sense of tortured grimacing in his playing. Instead, he makes your toes curl with his choice of notes rather than with any kind of heroic string bending.

Solo guitar renditions of Cannonball Adderley’s “Work Song” and the Johnny Mercer-Harold Arlen standard “Come Rain Or Come Shine” are both delightful surprises here. On those numbers and two other pieces-an Ellington medley of “Don’t You Know I Care?/Love You Madly” and a lush reading of the gorgeous Johnny Burke-Jimmy Van Heusen ballad “But Beautiful”-Burrell holds a veritable clinic on the art of playing chordal melodies.

Drummer Ferguson showcases his extraordinarily melodic approach to soloing on two numbers, “Woody’n You” and “Pent Up House.” And bassist Gales is prominently featured on a bluesy rendition of “Makin’ Whoopee.”

Players from all levels, beginner to professional, would be schooled by this potent and tasty package.