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File .Flac Single Track
Source: Original CD
Audio CD (March 29, 1994)
Original Release Date: 1963
Label: Blue Note
1. Chitlins con Carne
3. Soul Lament
4. Midnight Blue
5. Wavy Gravy
6. Gee Baby Ain't I Good to You
7. Saturday Night Blues
8. Kenny's Sound - (bonus track)
9. K Twist - (bonus track)
Kenny Burrell - guitar
Stanley Turrentine - saxophone
Major Holley - bass
Bill English - drums
Original Release Date: January 6, 1963
Kenny Burrell is among the most outstanding guitarists to emerge from the progressive jazz scene following World War II. With a career spanning over 40 years, Burrell's artistry has withstood commercial trends and popular vogues. Distinctive and easily recognizable, his guitar work explores new harmonic possibilities while retaining a strong swing approach. Music critic Lewis McMillan, Jr., described Burrell in Down Beat as "a man with a mission," an individual whose "role as a jazz musician was not unlike that of an evangelist."
Known for his musical devotion and versatility, Burrell has won acclaim from musicians and listeners throughout the world. His guitar style is representative of soulful blues, traditional swing, Latin forms, bebop modernism, and classical techniques. His extensive repertoire extends from classical composer Johann Sebastian Bach to maverick jazz pianist Thelonious Monk. Whether on nylon-string acoustic or electric hollow-body guitar, Burrell has advanced his mission to expose audiences to the true essence of jazz.
Born on July 31, 1931, in Detroit, Burrell belonged to a family of talented instrumentalists. His father played banjo, mandolin, and ukulele; his two older brothers, Billy and Donald, were guitarists. At an early age, Burrell's mother, who was a pianist and singer, insisted that the young man receive piano lessons. Despite his mother's urging, Burrell found playing the piano an unpromising venture.
Soon afterward Burrell turned his attention to the saxophone, an instrument that, unfortunately, his parents could not afford. His financial constraints led him to acquire a guitar instead at the age of 12. Under the instruction of his brother, Burrell learned the basics of the fretboard. But it wasn't until his introduction to the recordings of Charlie Christian that Burrell began to take a serious interest in the guitar. The amplified sounds of Christian's smooth horn-like phrasing inspired Burrell to devote himself to the study of his instrument.
At Miller High School in Detroit, Burrell's music advisor, Louis Cabara, furthered the young man's knowledge of composition and theory. Aside from offering first-rate instruction, Cabara furnished valuable advice concerning the philosophical aspects of music. Taken by the sounds of jazz, Burrell, although still underage, began to search for music in downtown nightclubs. One evening he and pianist Tommy Flannagan painted moustaches on their faces to get into an establishment where the legendary saxophonist Charlie "Yardbird" Parker was performing. As Burrell told Down Beat contributor Zan Stewart, "Bird was wonderful, and so gracious."
By 1948 Burrell had become a respected member of the thriving Detroit jazz community. His musicianship also impressed nationally known bandleaders Dizzy Gillespie and Illinois Jaquet, both of whom asked him to join their bands on the road. But Burrell's parents discouraged him from leaving Detroit until he had completed his musical education at Wayne State University. During his stint at the university, Burrell founded the New World Music Society, a private musicians collective that included local greats Elvin Jones, Yusef Lateef, Donald Byrd, and Pepper Adams.
A significant boost to Burrell's career came in 1951, when he made his recording debut on Dizzy Gillespie's Detroit-based Dee Gee label. Before earning his bachelor's degree in music from Wayne State, Burrell spent a year and a half studying classical guitar with Joe Fava. These lessons helped him develop a formal fingerstyle technique. Burrell's devotion to jazz, however, overshadowed his interest in classical forms. "I always wanted to change the notes," explained Burrell in Jazz Journal International. "Improvisation is the essence of jazz and I have to play the way I feel." After graduating from college in 1955, Burrell spent six months on the road with the Oscar Peterson Trio. A year later, determined to pursue greater career opportunities, Burrell left for New York with Tommy Flannagan.
Within several months of his arrival in New York, Burrell recorded his first LP, for the Blue Note label. As one of Manhattan's most sought-after studio musicians, he appeared on countless sessions for Prestige and Savoy. Between 1957 and 1959 Burrell played with Benny Goodman's band, filling the chair once occupied by his early idol, Charlie Christian. Over the next decade he performed with such jazz giants as John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, Thad Jones, and Stanley Turrentine.
In 1965 Burrell collaborated with arranger Gil Evans to record the critically acclaimed Guitar Forms. Complemented by Evans's brilliantly orchestrated scores, Burrell demonstrated his ability to perform musical styles ranging from classical and bossa nova to the blues. During this period, Burrell also made several recordings with organist Jimmy Smith, including the classic LPs Organ Grinder Swing and The Sermon. Since 1971, Burrell has occupied an academic position at the University of California, Los Angeles, teaching "Ellingtonia," a course dedicated to the music of legendary bandleader and composer Duke Ellington. Burrell continues to appear at seminars and concerts in the United States, Europe, and Japan. Each year he returns to Detroit for an always hotly anticipated engagement at Baker's Keyboard Lounge, one of the oldest jazz clubs in the country.
Bluesy bends, horn-like slurs, and tastefully inventive chord patterns are the hallmarks of Burrell's sound. His refined guitar work produces intensity and command without excessive volume. For Burrell, like most great jazzmen, the blues remain essential to his musical approach and sensibility. Ever since he heard the recordings of blues singer Muddy Waters and seminal blues guitarist T-Bone Walker, Burrell has looked to the blues for artistic and spiritual inspiration. "In my case, jazz and blues are inseparable," Burrell commented in Down Beat. Jazz guitarists from Grant Green to Pat Metheny have praised Burrell's bluesy sound and versatile musicianship.
Burrell has also been idolized by a legion of modern electric blues guitarists. Texas bluesman Albert Collins admitted that his original ambition was to play jazz in the Burrell style. Jimmy and Stevie Ray Vaughan often cited Burrell as one of their favorite guitarists. In fact, a cover version of Burrell's steamy blues classic "Chitlins Con Carne" appears on Stevie Ray's last LP, The Sky Is Crying. With such a widespread following there is little doubt that Burrell will have an enduring impact on guitarists for years to come. A serious and committed musician, Burrell is a performer, arranger, scholar, and above all, one of jazz guitar's greatest practitioners.
To describe Kenny Burrell as an integral part of the Blue Note story is to sell this still-thriving guitarist short. Perhaps better than any of his contemporaries, Burrell represents the level of versatility and consistent quality that transcended individual record labels and created the fertile jazz recording scene of the 12-inch LP's first decade.
He was everywhere, as a sideman and a leader, after launching his East Coast career with two Blue Note albums in 1956. And one suspects that certain excellent sessions he cut for other companies with Coleman Hawkins in place of Turrentine; or A Night at the Vanguard -classic trio Burrell- might have more substantial reputations today if they had been issued under the Blue Note logo. Consider such gems as Bluesy Burrell, cut for Prestige/Moodsville four months before the present session with Holley and Barretto aboard, Tommy Flanagan's piano added and Coleman Hawkins in place of Turrentine, or A Night at the Vanguard with Richard Davis and Roy Haynes that Argo taped in 1959 less than a month after Blue Note had documented a Burrell quintet (with Tina Brooks and Art Blakey), On View at the Five Spot Cafe.
Yet if such masterpieces from other catalogues (and others like Kenny Burrell with John Coltrane and The Tender Gender) can be imagined as Blue Note releases, no rival label could possibly have provided as fitting a home for Midnight Blue. Leonard Feather's notes report what the music so clearly reveals; that Burrell had a clear overall vision for the album, involving a program of blues and related material that might shout (but only in context) yet would also explore the feelings to be uncovered at lower volumes and slower tempos. It was a concept that must have taken producer Alfred Lion back to his earliest ensemble project with the Port of Harlem Jazzmen.
Given the particular affinity of the guitar and the blues, space was needed to allow the instrument its full expressive potential. Lion was willing to give Burrell the necessary room where other producers of the time might have insisted upon a piano or, especially given the album's theme, an organ. Taking further advantage of the textural possibilities by adding Ray Barretto's conga drums to Bill English's trap set was also within the Blue Note tradition. Candido had teamed with Kenny Clarke on the label's Introducing Kenny Burrell, and Barretto had assumed the role of house conguero for both Blue Note and Prestige since important 1958 recordings with Lou Donaldson, Red Garland and Gene Ammons. Bassist Major Holley Jr and English were Burrell regulars who worked and recorded frequently with the guitarist in these years, while Stanley Turrentine, the only Blue Note leader among the supporting artists, had first shown a penchant for making indelible music with Burrell on the 1960 session that produced Jimmy Smith's Midnight Special and Back at the Chicken Shack.
In various combinations, Burrell, Turrentine, Holley, English, and Barretto brilliantly realize the original goal. While the album is filled with great moments, like the guitarist's naked emoting on "Soul Lament" and the propulsion he generates while locking into tempo on "Midnight Blue", the overall plan and pace create one of the most subtle cumulative moods ever conjured on two sides of vinyl. Hear how the waltz tempo of "Wavy Gravy" arrives like a seismic shift in terrain, and how affirmatively things are concluded on "Saturday Night Blues". The seven original tracks form a complete statement, a considered presentation that in no way contained the spontaneity at the music's heart. The bonus track "Kenny's Sound" is particularly enlightening in this regard. It was the first piece done at the session and clearly did not enhance the aura of the final album, yet it served as a perfect muscle-flexer that allowed the musicians to loosen up and prepare for the highly focused task ahead. The other added title "K Twist", was recorded again nearly two years later on a session designed to produce material for release on 45. The later personnel is quite similar, with everyone from this session save Holley returning, but the addition of Herbie Hancock's piano creates a less fluent if more commercial veneer.
Midnight Blue did not need "K Twist" in order to generate a hit, since in "Chitlins Con Carne" it had one of the most ingratiating blues lines of the periods. "Chitlins Con Carne" might seem rather basic to some players and listeners more impressed by complex scales and harmonic substitutions, yet it holds profound lessons about telling a story through music and functioning as a collective unit missing from most texts and exercise books. It also establishes a level of music discourse that is sustained over the remainder of this timeless album.