Benny Green & Russell Malone | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Benny Green & Russell Malone 

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Pianist Benny Green and guitarist Russell Malone established this duo in the summer of 2001, and the alliance couldn't have come at a better time for either of them. Green, a young veteran of the recording scene (he turned 40 last week), had made a dozen albums under his own name and half that many as part of Ray Brown's trio, but his career, if not stalled, had at least hit a few speed bumps, slowed by too many similar projects. Malone--for my money the best guitarist navigating the jazz mainstream today--had garnered raves as a member of the trio that made Diana Krall a star, yet he was unable to build on that success with his own recordings. But what may have seemed a marriage of convenience has turned out to be a partnership made in heaven, captured on this year's sparkly Jazz at the Bistro (Telarc), recorded during performances at the well-regarded Saint Louis nightspot. Green has an encyclopedic familiarity with vintage piano styles, from Harlem stride to the soul-jazz shuffles of the 60s, and this offers a perfect cushion for Malone's knockout technique and astonishing conceptual abilities. (I've heard the guitarist crowd most of jazz's history, from Delta blues to 70s funk, into a single solo.) Meanwhile, Malone's generosity of spirit revitalizes the pianist's playing and even reframes his approach: the chemistry between them acts to contextualize and focus Green's ongoing homage to past styles and masters. In addition, Malone has a rambunctious musical wit that draws out, and contrasts with, Green's more diffident humor. The album shines, but to my memory, they played even better last year at the Jazz Showcase. Friday and Saturday, April 11 and 12, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, April 13, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Todd Davis.

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