The Poll Winners: Barney Kessel With Shelly Manne And Ray Brown – Craft Recordings

by | Jun 30, 2022 | Jazz CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Craft Recordings releases a re-mastered 180-gram vinyl of a legendary trio.

The Poll Winners: Barney Kessel With Shelly Manne And Ray Brown – Contemporary Records (1957)/Craft Recordings (2021) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 40:34 ****1/2:

(Barney Kessel – guitar; Ray Brown – double bass; Shelly Manne – drums)

Muskogee native Barney Kessel is widely considered to be among the greatest jazz guitarists. A noted band leader, Kessel was renowned for session work that included Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson, Billie Holiday, Sonny Rollins, Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald and Roy Eldridge. Additionally, he was an integral member of the iconic pop music studio ensemble, The Wrecking Crew. A self-taught musician, Kessel had a unique grasp of straightforward and complex structures that made him an expressive soloist and group musician. A certain apex of his career was his Poll Winners album series with Ray Brown and Shelly Manne. These reflected the Downbeat and Metronome magazine annual polls. 

Craft Recordings has released a re-mastered 180-gram vinyl of the debut of this trio. The Poll Winners: Barney Kessel With Shelly Manne And Ray Brown is a solid representation of a creatively interactive trio. Side 1 opens with the Duke Jordan composition, “Jordu”. The trio opens strong with a syncopated vamp featuring Kessel on lead and Brown’s propulsive bass. Manne’s subtle brush technique is excellent. Brown and Manne exchange with great timing while Kessel brings a deft touch to his chord-laden play. This dynamic small ensemble capture the innate, swaying elegance of Duke Ellington on the classic standard, “Satin Doll”. Kessel’s first solo glows with melodic articulation and bluesy touches. Brown accompanies in counterpoint while Kessel cuts loose. Brown’s concise solo is erudite and Manne’s turn in the spotlight is brief but memorable for its unique execution. “It Could Happen To You” (Van Heusen & Burke) is one of those popular tunes that has become a jazz touchstone (including covers by Miles Davis. Bud Powell, Ahmad Jamal, Dave Brubeck, Keith Jarrett and Sonny Rollins). Here the depth and fluidity of Kessel’s lyrical approach is translated. His delicate articulation infuses the opening and when the trio engages, the tempo uptick Is compelling. In a surprising arrangement, the torch ballad, “Mean To Me” gets a heavy dose of swing. Kessel’s exuberant play is palpable and the rhythm section responds in lockstep.

Side 2 kicks off with another pop/jazz standard, “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me”. Against sparkling drum fills, Kessel’s lead is forcefully rhythmic with brilliant jazz intonation, and Brown trades off stylishly. “Green Dolphin Street’ was written for the 1947 film of the same name. Miles Davis re-invented it for the jazz idiom in 1958…now it is an iconic part of jazz lore. The trio percolates on this one, distilling the moodiness and exotic motifs, but instilling it with Latin flair. Slowing things down, another Great American Songbook tune (“You Go To My Head”) is exquisitely translated. This major-minor transition key opus is perfect for this group. Kessel embraces the wistful longing of the melody, with some additional flourish. Brown is equally adroit at interpreting the melancholic accents and Manne’s understated drum work is graceful. Kessel and Brown counter vamps at the beginning of a new Kessel composition, “Minor Moods”. Then a buoyant swing break permeates this jam as guitar and double bass exchange riffs before a return to the intro. The finale, “Nagasaki” is a high-octane performance that combines freewheeling instrumentation and precision. The pedigree of this song is mainly associated with big band jazz, and the dynamic trio emulates the late 20’s vibe.

Craft Recordings had done an excellent job in re-mastering The Poll Winners to 180-gram vinyl. The ORP pressing is meticulous with little surface noise and no hisses or pops. Bernie Grumman’s stereo mix is precise with guitar in one speaker and double bass/drums in another. It is nicely balanced. For audiophiles, the original liner notes include a lot of technical information about the Western 45-45 “StereoDisk” cutting system.

Side 1:
Satin Doll
It Could Happen To You
Mean To Me

Side 2:
Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me
Green Dolphin Street
You Go To My Hea
Minor Mood

—Robbie Gerson

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