Kenny Burrell - God Bless The Child

Kenny Burrell God Bless The Child (CTI 1971)

Naming a record God Bless The Child inevitably brings forth a lot of expectations. Could one live up to them after re-imagining the touching version of the song’s composer Billie Holiday – she and co-writer Herzog Jr. wrote about a subject matter close to her vest – and the haunting, deconstructive solo rendition of Eric Dolphy? It’s not easy, and Kenny Burrell sure doesn’t. It seems that for him, it was just another lovely tune and he’s not really into it – and for producer Creed Taylor just another song allowed to be buried in schmaltzy cello sections.

Kenny Burrell - God Bless The Child

Personnel

Kenny Burrell (guitar), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Hubert Laws (flute), Richard Wynands (piano, electric piano), Hugh Lawson (electric piano), Ron Carter (bass), Billy Cobham (drums), Ray Baretto (percussion), Airto Moreira (percussion), Seymour Barab, Charles McCracken, George Ricci, Lucien Smit, Alan Schmit (cello section), Don Sebesky (arranger, conductor)

Recorded

on April 28 and May 11 & 25, 1971 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as CTI 6011 in 1971

Track listing

Side A:
Be Yourself
Love Is The Answer
Do What You Gotta Do
Side B:
A Child Is Born
God Bless The Child


It’s not a total failure. After all, it’s Kenny Burrell. Having been much admired by critics and public alike a decade before turning over this album, Burrell felt comfortable in many surroundings and delivered countless memorable contributions to the straight, bluesy, bossa and comparatively adventurous sides of jazz. God Bless The Child has its moments and they invariably have to do – as opposed to a multitude of strings, keyboards and percussion – with Kenny Burrell’s many fine licks.

One can do without the boring world music jam of Love Is All The Way, but Burrell’s solo runs sound like exotic alleyways that always seems to lead to an opening in the labyrinth. The crisp and clear Do What You Gotta Do wouldn’t have been out of place on one of Burrell’s career peaks, 1963’s Midnight Blue, if it wasn’t for five cello’s moving in straight from a Mel Torme delivery truck.

Burrell’s best soloing is heard in Be Yourself; it’s inventive and typically Burrell – he doesn’t throw it at you in bold strikes but instead tells a story in a laid-back yet exciting way. Unfortunately, Be Yourself gets the same string treatment as the rest of the album. By this time, the album’s production has dulled the senses considerably.

God Bless The Child is almost as much a Creed Taylor record as it is a Kenny Burrell record. Taylor, imperative in moving jazz forward with his production and A&R work for Impulse and Verve, was very succesful in transforming the paths of sixties luminaries into lucrative endeavors by means of his own company Creed Taylor Inc. Musicians (although sidemen sometimes have a different story to tell) were glad of it – $! – and rightfully so, they had to make a living. The downside of CTI was that Taylor was a man who liked to be in control. More often than not, the net result of such an abundance of money and control in music biz, particularly onwards from the early seventies, has been indulgence; suddenly there are myriad possibilities production and personel-wise (multitrack consoles, strings and brass-sections, two or more percussionists, keyboard-landscapes) and they more often than not tend to lead, in my view, to a creative void and sterile recordings. The finest recordings, on the other hand, are often born out of necessity – relative lack studio time and personel, more primitive equipment – which pipes up expressiveness.

One outcome of Creed Taylor’s overpowering presence in the dollar department and control room was on my turntable. It’s bland, slick. It was a career boost for Kenny Burrell, but not an album to fondly remember and be fondly remembered for.

Leo Wright - Soul Talk

Leo Wright Soul Talk (Vortex 1963/1970)

For Leo Wright, transcending the limitations of blues chord sequences seemed to come naturally. At times shoutin’ with Arnett Cobbian delight and almost as vigorous a master of the startling entrance as Dexter Gordon, Wright’s command of the alto saxophone on fast tunes such as State Trooper and Poopsie’s Minor as well as slower numbers that keep the customer attentive, is definitely on par.

Leo Wright - Soul Talk

Personnel

Leo Wright (alto saxophone, flute), Gloria Coleman (organ), Kenny Burrell (guitar), Frankie Dunlop (drums)

Recorded

on November 1, 1963 in NYC

Released

as Vortex 2011 in 1970

Track listing

Side A:
State Trooper
Blue Leo
Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child
Soul Talk
Side B:
Poopsie’s Minor
Skylark
Blues Fanfare


Wright assembled a high quality outfit consisting of Frankie Dunlop – at the time Thelonious Monk’s (already longtime) associate – Kenny Burrell and Gloria Coleman. (then wife of tenor saxophonist George Coleman, who in 1963 was with Miles Davis.) Miss Coleman’s seductive, understated play is in keeping with her Hammond B3’s crisp sound.

Leo Wright’s flute play on Soul Talk reminds us of the flute chair he held in Dizzy Gillespie’s top bands from 1959 to 1963, a stint Wright not surprisingly is best known for.

Soul Talk was released on Atlantic subsidiary Vortex in 1970. It’s part of its 2000 series and the odd one out in a series of ‘out there’ albums from among others Joe Zawinul, Steve Marcus and Sonny Sharrock. Actually, its session date has been a question mark among cogniscenti for some time, yet it’s highly unlikely that it doesn’t stem from 1963. That year also saw Leo Wright joining Gloria Coleman, drummer Pola Roberts and guitarist Grant Green on the Impulse release Soul Sisters. In fact, that group played the East Coast and had a regular gig at Branker’s in upper Harlem, New York City. (Wright stepped in with his alto sax whenever Grant Green was unavailable)

Joe Goldberg’s liner notes conclude with the hope that Wright’s group would make another album. Unfortunately, they didn’t. At the end of 1963 Leo Wright migrated to Europe.

Brother Jack McDuff - Somethin' Slick!

Brother Jack McDuff Somethin’ Slick! (Prestige 1963)

The work of organ-based groups in the late fifties and sixties, I feel, have somehow functioned as a counterbalance to a music that at times became too academic or pretentious. Its down home morals, its dance-ability and entertainment value reminded jazz of its origins, which jazz sometimes tended to forget at its own peril.

Brother Jack McDuff - Somethin' Slick!

Personnel

Brother Jack McDuff (organ), Harold Vick (tenor saxophone A1, A2, B2), Eric Dixon (tenor saxophone A2, B2), Kenny Burrell (guitar), Joe Dukes (drums)

Recorded

on January 8, 1963 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as PR 7265 in 1963

Track listing

Side A:
Our Miss Brooks
Somethin’ Slick
Side B:
Smut
How High The Moon
It’s A Wonderful World


Given this scheme of happenings, Brother Jack McDuff was a key figure in keeping the flame burning. They didn’t nickname him ‘Brother’ for nothing. There is an element of church in his music that is hard to overlook. McDuff always swings and the quality of his recorded output is of a consistent, high level.

Somethin’ Slick sits well amidst a string of early career records that brought McDuff to the fore as an organist that carefully builds intense solo’s that occasionally (the title track comes to mind!) border on uncut rock&roll. It is music that kept the joint jumpin’ and the feet-a-tappin’; carefree, yet sophisticated.

A plus of this album is that certain themes are played in unison by tenor saxophonists Harold Vick and Eric Dixon. It has a nice ring to it.