Russell Malone – Time For The Dancers – High Note Records HCD 7305, 50:51 ****:

Jazz guitarist shines on latest release!

(Russell Malone – guitar; Rick Germanson – piano; Luke Sellick – double bass; Willie Jones III – drums)

The third release on High Note  from Russell Malone, Time For The Dancers features a talented quartet (Russell Malone/guitar; Rick Germanson/piano; Luke Sellick – bass and Willie Jones III/drums) to interpret a variety of compositions (some originals and a mix of jazz and pop numbers). Opening the album is the title track. First recorded in 1977 by The Roland Hanna Trio, the quartet gives it a unique take. Germanson starts off with a brief ethereal piano riff as the rhythm section joins in a  fluid groove. Malone takes command instantly with his precise notation and well-timed grooves.  At the 3:43 mark, Germanson solos with melodic, lyrical finesse.There is a 70’s feel to the guitar tones and it is appealing. The reverie changes quickly on “Leave It To Lonnie’. With elements of funk in the rhythm and a guitar which alternates between jagged and smooth, the jam (dedicated to bassist Lonnie Plaxico) is gritty and gives Malone an opportunity to flex his muscles as a guitarist. Germanson’s runs are pure soul jazz and elevates the music. A repeat coda closes the performance.

In contrast, “The Ballad Of Hank Crawford” is slow-burning blues with a gospel flair. Malone coaxes feeling out of the guitar and his phrasing is both expressive and intricate. With grace, the piano, bass and drums support the guitar lead. In a similar mood, Peggy Lee’s “There’ll Be Another Spring” is tender with suppleness. Germanson’s gossamer piano solo complements Malone’s nimble touch. “Pocket Watch” as described in Dan Bilawsky’s incisive liner notes is a tribute to legendary bassist and mentor, Ray Brown. Malone mixes chords and note punctuation with deftness. Germanson may deliver his finest solo on the album with a bluesy jazz intonation. The quartet glides through the song with intuitive timing, hooks and subtle tempo adjustments. At 4:00, Sellick adds to the homage with a brief solo and a later fill. Maintaining a jaunty pace, “Chico And The man” (from the 70’s television sitcom) is a welcome shout-out to the inimitable Jose Feliciano. Here, a bossa nova arrangement creates a festive atmosphere.

Malone shines on a solo performance of Billy Joel’s melancholic “And So It Goes”. After a complex intro, the straightforward melody line is executed with the intended solemnity. Malone closes with a brief interlude. Recapturing an energetic momentum, Malone percolates on Bobby Hutcherson’s “Little B’s Poem”. There is a waltz signature undercurrent and unique near-staccato guitar licks. Germanson’s runs are sprightly. Sellick’s double bass is tempo-driven and artistic, and Willie Jones’ drumming is measured and fits with the other instrumentalists (as it does on the entire album). With a haunting reverence, “Flowers For Emmett” is a perfect vehicle for Malone’s glowing technique.

Time For The Dancers is top-notch jazz!

Time For The Dancers
Leave It To Lonnie
The Ballad Of Hank Crawford
There’ll Be Another Spring
Pocket Watch
Theme From “Chico And The Man”
And So It Goes
Little B’s Poem
Flowers For Emmett Till

—Robbie Gerson