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Russell Malone: Playground

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Guitarist Malone blends his beautifully warm tone, clean articulation and considerable chops into the fabric of accessible, melodic and swinging originals along with some well-chosen standards on the self-produced Playground, his MaxJazz debut. With a band of talented young upstarts like pianist Martin Bejerano, bassist Tassili Bond and drummer E.J. Strickland, along with special guests Joe Locke on vibes and Gary Bartz on alto sax on one track apiece, Malone showcases his tasteful six-string virtuosity while taking a few more risks than he usually does.

“Blues for Mulgrew,” an edgy, atypical number for Malone, has him engaging in some off-kilter, uncharacteristically “out” cat-and-mouse with pianist Bejerano. The guitarist plays it more in the free-wheeling spirit of six-string renegade Dom Minasi here rather than reflecting his usual influences of Wes Montgomery and George Benson (which he flaunts to good effect on “Invisible Colors” and the breezy opener “You Should Know Better”). It’s a different, adventurous approach for a guitarist so accomplished and so comfortable swinging that he has nothing more to prove in that bag.

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