Kenny Burrell And The Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra Unlimited – Unlimited 1 – (Live At Catalina’s) – HighNote HCD7298 ****:

This is a big band that has a sense of swing and plays with a brawny professionalism.

(Kenny Burrell – electric guitar, vocals; Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra Unlimited; Special guest: Barbara Morrison –  vocal on track 16)

The guitarists who were the natural successors to Charlie Christian, such as Wes Montgomery, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, Tal Farlow and Jimmy Raney are all now deceased. The lone “soul” survivor, is the 85 year old Kenny Burrell. However age has not dimmed his capacity for tasks that are devoted to expanding the appreciation of big band music, all the while continuing to perform at the highest level.

This live recording from Catalina’s Jazz club in Hollywood California, took place over several dates in 2015 and 2016. The Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra Unlimited for which Kenny Burrell is the Artistic Director, is made up of top-shelf professional musicians, who work in the recording, movie, and TV industry based in LA. The band is devoted to performing compositions from jazz’s vast repertoire, and assisting in developing new ideas in jazz music.

The program that was performed on the dates of the recording was an amalgam of jazz classics and original material. It was designed to showcase the quality of the musicianship of the band, and feature Burrell’s guitar. The album starts off superbly with two beauties: Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments” and Duke Pearson’s “Jeannine”. On the former, Burrell’s contribution is short but effective. However it is the sax section that plays Nelson’s tenor solo from his own Stolen Moments album as a soli ensemble (a passage for a section of a jazz band in chord block texture) to a great result, and Justo Almario takes a lovely flute solo. As for the latter, Burrell does a vocal on the number which suggests that being the Artistic Director has its privileges. Once away from the vocal, the band finds a groove that demonstrates they can swing, with Burrell’s guitar riding over the band with fleet-fingered flair.

The several tracks which follow, exhibit the compositions of Kenny Burrell and Dr. Bobby Rodriguez trumpeter and Co-Director of the Orchestra. All are well crafted numbers which take advantage of the powerhouse structure of the Orchestra. Of special note is Burrell’s “Be Yourself” which has a Duke Ellington feel. Trombonist Nick De Pinna shows he has the chops to impress the audience. Burrell’s guitar is as incisive as would be expected.

Rodrigues contributes two Latin-based themes. Firstly “Mama Ya Ya” which he wrote for his great, great grand-mother and “Adelanté” which was designed as a feature for Burrell’s guitar. Both numbers have a terrific vibe and the band’s drummer Clayton Cameron propels the aggregation in a forceful manner that adds a fierce dynamic to the compositions. Rodrigues takes sparkling solos in both pieces and Burrell’s guitar has an edginess that reverberates to provide colour and consistency to the numbers.

The penultimate track is a tribute to Billy Strayhorn with two compositions “Passion Flower” and “Take The ‘A’ Train”. The former is solo guitar reading from Burrell done in a precise fashion. On ‘A’ Train, Burrell opens the proceedings by stating the theme, which the band picks up starting with the standard Ellington piano into, then swings into high gear. The arrangement is written with the trumpet section in mind and they do a soli version of the original Ray Nance trumpet solo. All in all everyone has a good time with the number.  This is a big band that has a sense of swing and plays with brawny professionalism.

Tracklist: Stolen Moments; Jeannine; Be Yourself; Remembering; Mama Ya Ya; Fourth Dimensions (AKA Kenny’s Sound); Adelanté; Soulero; Strayhorn Medley: Passion Flower/Take The ‘A’ Train; Things Ain’t What They Used To Be

—Pierre Giroux