Live Jazz: Kenny Burrell at Catalina Bar & Grill

By Tony Gieske

The rock plague years turned me against the electric guitar, although I still kept a warm nook in my heart for Charlie Christian and one other cat.

The latter, Kenny Burrell, did not chill my nook during his buffet of delights Thursday night at Catalina’s. That sound of his, so like a voice or a horn, pleased me greatly as usual. And so did his improvisatory skill, restrained, witty and matchlessly appropriate.

Kenny Burrell

Tonight he had a rival, saxophonist and flutist Tivon Pennicott from Atlanta, newly weaned and unstoppable. His tenor sound was almost as soft and freshly minted as Lester Young’s was in the 1930s. His harmonic paths, while innovative and darling enough, did not quite match up. At least not so far.

Tivon Pennicott

With guys like Roberto Miranda, Clayton Cameron and Tom Ranier backing you, one’s solo stack will seldom totter. Bassist Miranda, our L.A. neighbor, soloed brilliantly as did drummer and brushmaster Clayton Cameron, the Tony Bennett show-stopper. Pianist Ranier filled out the rich ration of swinging viands.

As always with Burrell, who teaches Ellington at UCLA, the night’s harvest was full of Ducal delights.

Pennicott’s freshly imagined version of “In a Sentimental Mood” was the most memorable, closely rivalled by Ranier’s “One Petal of a Rose” and a majestic account of a familiar  Ellington number by Burrell.  I was so taken by the way Ellington makes miracles from three or four perfectly ordinary notes that I forgot the name of the piece.

But here came another great cooker with an  unforgettable title, “Raincheck,” written by Ellington partner, Billy Strayhorn.  My heart lifted again. Tonight’s solos did not quite burn their way into the memory like the ones on the record, but you can’t really expect that, can you?

I liked the way they closed the set with “Now’s the Time,” a bebop classic whose familiarity does not age it a bit with these guys playing it. As a matter of fact, I liked everything they played and everybody who played it.

Photos by Tony Gieske.  Read and see more of Tony’s jazz essays and photos at his personal web site


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