Kenny Burrell: Soul Call - JazzWax

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May 23, 2011


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Bill Kirchner

One of Burrell's most unusual albums is the 1964 "Guitar Forms" (Verve), accompanied by an orchestra arranged by Gil Evans.

He's also superb in a guitar-bass-drums format. I heard him in the late '70s with bassist Reggie Johnson and drummer Sherman Ferguson and he was (no pun intended) electrifying. Hear him with Richard Davis and Roy Haynes on the 1960 "A Night at the Vanguard" (Argo).


Burrell was also a pretty good vocalist, as evidenced by some of his later recordings. Among his earlier albums, one stand out is the 1958 Blue Lights album with a cover illustration by Warhol. It has quartet through septet tracks with a lot of extended blowing, including some great tenor work from Junior Cook and Tina Brooks. (Also Louis Smith, Duke Jordan or Bobby Timmons, Sam Jones, Blakey.)

Ed Leimbacher

I used to imagine that Guitar Forms was another Spanish/Latin album arranged by Gil for Miles--but that he'd moved on by then, leaving the tracks available for some other great soloist... et voila! Uncanny Kenny steps in. Bushwah, of course--the project undoubtedly Burrell's from the start, and with Evans involved on just half the tracks.

But, brother, the Burrell guitar and the Evans "giant guitar" together for "Lotus Land"? "Moon and Sand"? "Last Night When We Were Young"? Music can't get much lovelier than that. Why not a full album and a sequel too?

Many years later Kenny cut a pair of LPs in tribute to the Duke (that other leader who played his orchestra like a single instrument). Brilliant, of course, Burrell carefully building the tracks around changing guest players, and maybe the ghost of Gil hovering nearby? At any rate, late masterworks in the lengthy and always splendid Burrell career. All kudos to Kenny.


K.B. took his instrument, the guitar, to its highest plateau, and has had one of the most productive and creative careers in american music. Thank you, Mr. Burrell!

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of a Song" (Grove) and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax is a two-time winner of the Jazz Journalists Association's best blog award.

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