Friday, October 28, 2016

Listening to Prestige 213: Jimmy Raney/Kenny Burrell

This was booked as a Prestige All Star session, but clearly the center of attention is the two guitars, one of them the label's newest star, the other a veteran of the early days of Prestige, who had been away from the label for a couple of years, and would be back for just this session. Kenny Burrell and Jimmy Raney mesh beautifully here, but what's even more interesting is how well all the instruments-- two guitars and two horns--all come together, so seamlessly that you almost don't register the difference between horns and strings as they play the heads together, and one solo follows another. And since several of the pieces are by Mal Waldron ("Blue Duke," "Dead Heat" and "Pivot") you can add that to the mix too. Waldron is always a great soloist, but never better than on his own compositions.

The outliers here are the one cut each where one guitarist takes center stage, and the other sits out. For Burrell, this is "Close Your Eyes," a song that had recently been popular in a version by Tony Bennett, and I had always thought of it as a passable but not very interesting example of 50s pop, but it has a much longer history. It was written by Bernice Petkere, who broke into the boy's club of songwriting in the 1930s and made enough of an impression that Irving Berlin dubbed her "the queen of Tin Pan Alley." "Close Your Eyes" was first recorded in 1933 by Ruth Etting, and it's stuck around, with other jazz versions by Humphrey Lyttleton and Oscar Peterson, and jazz vocal versions by Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Betty Carter, Nancy Wilson, and another queen -- Ms. Latifah. Here the spotlight is given to Burrell, and he takes off with it, bypassing the melody almost altogether (perhaps why both Spotify and YouTube have it listed as "I'll Close my Eyes") for some breathtaking improvisational flights.

He then sits out and gives Jimmy Raney a turn on "Out of Nowhere," another 1930s chestnut that became a jazz standard. most famously in a 1937 version by Coleman Hawkins, with a solo described as "so intimidating that no tenor saxophone player tried the tune until eight years later." It had a pretty intimidating guitar solo, by Django Reinhardt, but Raney's version is entirely satisfying.

And one should also mention "Little Melonae," another outlier of sorts. It features the full ensemble, but with special attention to Jackie McLean, who wrote the tune.

This is another of those Prestige All Stars albums where some All Stars are more All Star than others. All the musicians get billed in the same font, but only Kenny Burrell and Jimmy Raney get their first names, and the album is called 2 Guitars.

 Order Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 here.

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