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Red Garland Trio: Swingin’ on the Korner: Live at Keystone Korner

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When discussing jazz’s great pianists, Red Garland usually gets mentioned late in the conversation, if at all. Despite his centrality to the first great Miles Davis quintet, his work with John Coltrane and his successful run as a trio leader, Garland’s star has dimmed considerably since his death in 1984. Swingin’ on the Korner, a two-CD or three-LP collection of previously unreleased recordings from a 1977 run at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner, argues that Garland deservers a bigger place in the pantheon.

Garland is joined by bassist Leroy Vinnegar and Davis rhythm-section cohort Philly Joe Jones on drums. The gig marked the only time these musicians comprised Garland’s trio, and they are in fine fettle as they work out a program of pop and jazz standards. Garland combines clanging Erroll Garner block chords with moments of single-note whimsy on “I Wish I Knew,” and his feel for melodic space gives a melancholy ache to the obscure ballad “If I’m Lucky.” Jones’ snare bombs and hissing cymbals punch along Garland’s hard-swinging take on “Bags’ Groove,” and “Dear Old Stockholm” epitomizes the drummer’s facility for solos that thunder while never losing the beat. Vinnegar proves himself a master of the walking style on “The Best Things in Life Are Free,” and he gives “On Green Dolphin Street” a sturdy foundation while Garland coaxes fire from one of jazz’s most seductive melodies.

The music collected here ignores the cataclysmic shifts in jazz since Garland’s days with Davis; if told these recordings had been made in 1957 instead of 20 years later, one wouldn’t bat an eyelash. But when musicians with this much skill and harmonic synchronicity tackle even the most familiar standards, magic can take place, and Swingin’ on the Korner is as deeply pleasurable as it is vital to the restoration of Garland’s legacy.

Originally Published