Kenny Burrell – At the Five Spot Café – Blue Note ST-84021/ Analogue Productions CBNJ 84021 SA – Stereo-only SACD (1959), 63:25 (Distr. by Harmonia mundi) ****:
(Kenny Burrell, guitar; Tina Brooks, tenor sax; Bobby Timmons or Roland Hanna, piano; Ben Tucker, bass; Art Blakey, drums)
Kenny Burrell’s 1959 session, At the Five Spot Café, is a special recording on several levels. First of all it paired him with the inimitable, Art Blakey. Art and Kenny seldom recorded together, as Blakey was busy leading his Jazz Messengers by 1959, and he seldom played with a guitarist as a recording leader. Secondly, the Five Spot live session features Tina Brooks on four selections. Brooks lived to be only 42, before passing away from drug issues. He recorded only four albums, all for Blue Note, and they are collectors’ items. Though his career was short-lived, he played with Jackie McLean, Freddie Hubbard, Freddie Redd, and Jimmy Smith. He also went on the road with Ray Charles, which has been documented on DVD. Tina was a very passionate, soulful player, who emerged from bebop to improvise on the blues with open ended harmonic figures, and easily provided improvisational ideas that both challenged, and pleased hard bop listeners.
Further enriching this live recording were the use of two separate piano players, separating tracks with the bluesy Bobby Timmons, and the more elegant Roland Hanna. (Hanna is in the piano chair on “Hallelujah,” and “36-23-36”). There is simply something for everyone here, who loves the Blue Note sound of the late ’50s and early ’60s, the period when Blue Note ruled the jazz scene along with Prestige Records.
You will notice the relaxed setting, with the five main tracks all around the ten minute mark, leaving Burrell’s group room to stretch out and follow Blakey’s lead. The three bonus tracks are much shorter (except for “Swingin’) and feature tracks by Randy Weston, Clifford Brown, and Tadd Dameron, respectively.
Timmons takes out “Birk’s Works” with a bluesy intro and brings to mind his work with Cannonball Adderley. Burrell’s understated yet classy guitar lines take over before Brooks’ tenor has its say on this Dizzy Gillespie classic, done at a slower tempo and more bluesy than the bop versions that we are accustomed to. Though many critics have complained about the out-of-tune-piano on this session, with obvious reason, we still get to hear Timmons coax some blues choruses that will get your head nodding in time to Blakey’s beat.
“Hallelujah” brings together Roland Hanna to interface with Burrell, while Blakey stirs the pot. Burrell increases his fleet fingering, keeping pace with Art. Hanna is every bit their equal with his contribution. Blakey then makes the piece his, as he uses mallets to commune with the cymbals. A good four to five minutes of the eleven-plus-minute track feature Art soloing, and the team of remastering geniuses at Analogue Production, Steve Hoffman, and Kevin Gray, work their magic bringing Blakey into your living room for a private drum lesson. “Lady Be Good” follows and is actually a reworking of Monk’s “Hackensack,” the home location of original recording engineer, Rudy Van Gelder. Mid-track, Tina Brooks appears post Burrell work-out to flesh out the song with his signature bop meets its infant younger brother, hard bop.
Other winning club performances involve Burrell’s introspective vision of the classic “Lover Man.” Burrell just turned 80 this year, and is still going strong ,with his elegant spot perfect straight ahead playing. SACD’s richness brings out Kenny’s warm touch on this jazz standard. “36-23-36” written by Kenny to honor the hourglass figure revered by Playboy sounds sublime in SACD, and we get our first chance to enjoy in walking fashion the bass of Ben Tucker. Tina Brooks is back on stage for Clifford Brown’s “Swingin.” and he, Blakey, and Burrell play to a draw for highlights.
Fans of this all-star aggregation would do well to consider purchase of this edition of the Five Spot recording. It has easily the best fidelity of the many prior editions of this intimate recording, whereas the Japanese edition of 2008 did not include the three bonus tracks.
Tracklist: Birk’s Works, Hallelujah, Lady Be Good, Lover Man, 36-23-36, (Swingin”, Beef Stew Blues, If You Could See Me Now- bonus tracks)
A lesser known jazz pioneer gets a re-mastered vinyl upgrade.