By Don Heckman
Kenny Burrell took a break Friday night from his academic duties at U.C.L.A., where he has been the driving force behind the establishment – and the expansion – of the University’s superb jazz program.
Working with his quartet at Catalina Bar and Grill, his far-ranging performance recalled some of the high points in his stellar career as an iconic master of the jazz guitar.
Moving from electric to acoustic guitars, Burrell played with the engaging mixture of subtle chording, brisk rhythms and arching melodies that have characterized his work since he arrived on the national jazz scene in the early ‘50s. He combined those elements with particular effectiveness on standards such as “Make Someone Happy” and “Bye Bye Blackbird.” And when he switched to an acoustic guitar for the classic lyricism of Michel Legrand’s “The Summer Knows” and Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood,” his musical storytelling reached into even greater areas of expressiveness.
Other tunes, drawing a full set of colors from the Burrell musical palette, included a brief pass into the rhythms of bossa nova and a briskly swinging romp through the jaunty pulse and twisted phrases of Thelonious Monk’s “Rhyhm-a-Ning.” In each case, he displayed his creative adaptability with élan and imagination.
He was superbly aided by the world-class playing of his quintet, with the musically eclectic Justo Almario on tenor saxophone and flute, Llew Matthews on piano, Tony Dumas on bass and Clayton Cameron on drums. Each provided Burrell with the benefits of their special talents: Matthews balanced solid accompaniment and crisp soloing with spontaneous arrangements; Almario moved from fast-fingered tenor saxophone solos to warm flute sounds: Dumas, as always, provided an irresistible foundation; and Cameron’s propulsive drive was ever-present, whether playing laid-back brushes or clamoring sticks.
Call it an appealing musical get together between a gifted group of players. And give full credit to the versatile Burrell for leading the way through a memorable evening of music.
Tonight, the Kenny Burrell Quintet wraps their three night run at Catalina Bar & Grill. Don’t miss them. Burrell also returns to Catalina Bar & Grill on Monday, July 15 in a larger setting, leading his L.A Jazz Orchestra Unlimited.
* * * * * * * *
Photos by Bob Barry.