Kenny Burrell Quartet | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Kenny Burrell Quartet 

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Those jazz guitarists of the 1950s who built upon the legacies of saxist Charlie Parker and guitarist Charlie Christian (who cut a vital figure in the transition from big-band swing to small-group bebop) were a diverse lot. The group included Jimmy Raney and Tal Farlow, Wes Montgomery, and eventually Grant Green--but no guitarist of this period played on more LPs than Kenny Burrell, whose busy studio schedule attested to his popularity among musicians as well as listeners. Leading 20-minute jams and playing alongside John Coltrane as well as fellow veterans of the Detroit scene, Burrell established himself as the preeminent hard-bop guitarist. On Guitar Forms (Verve), his 1965 collaboration with orchestrator Gil Evans, he went further, with his use of unamplified guitar and idioms ranging from flamenco to country blues. Today's retro fretmen, such as Mark Whitfield and Peter Bernstein, owe a great debt to Burrell's relaxed phrasing, ripe tone, and harmonic breadth. The emergence of these guitarists has coincided with a renaissance in Burrell's own playing: after a period of ennui in the 80s, Burrell has spent the 90s attacking familiar forms with renewed energy and curiosity, giving vent to a more contemplative side of his music that emerged in the 70s. He sounds as good as ever but certainly different, with enough of hard bop's blue flame to heat up the emotional maturity he now brings to his material. In Chicago, Burrell allies himself with pianist Willie Pickens, bassist Larry Gray, and drummer George Fludas. While the three always interact with great efficiency, it's Fludas that promises the most chemistry here: his rhythms, drum colors, and location of the beat all mirror the soulful Detroit jazz tradition from which Burrell emerged. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 and 10 PM, next Friday and Saturday, May 8 and 9, 9 and 11 PM, and next Sunday, May 10, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Michael Jackson.


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