At 70, guitarist Kenny Burrell probably shouldn’t sound as good as he does: though his instrument makes few physical demands, at least compared to trumpet or drums, the passing years still take their toll. But the style Burrell introduced a half century ago has proved extraordinarily durable–all he has to do is invoke it, scarcely updated, to swing solidly and construct unflappable, indelible melodies. Arriving in New York fresh from the prolific Detroit jazz scene of the early 50s, Burrell effortlessly adapted hard bop to the guitar, extending a trail blazed by prebop guitarist Charlie Christian, as well as by bebop’s Tal Farlow and Jimmy Raney. His dark, round tone corresponded to the tenor sounds of Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, while his solo lines reflected the sturdy grace of hard bop’s most lyrical architects, pianist Horace Silver and trumpeter Clifford Brown. Virtues like these don’t really age, and even on older material–since the 70s the guitarist has nursed a jones for classics from the Ellington songbook–Burrell’s playing tends to come across as historic rather than dated. On the recently issued quartet disc Lucky So and So (Concord), he’s backed by a veteran rhythm section a generation younger; on the ballads that dominate the album his guitar ripples with a lovely lambency, and on the up-tempo stuff it still has a piquant attack. (He’s also taken to singing the occasional tune, not uncommon for instrumentalists whose stamina may have declined a bit; he uses the same warm phrasing with his gently rasping voice that he brings to the guitar.) The Chicago rhythm players Burrell will use here are, like the sidemen on the current record, youngish vets: Willie Pickens (piano), Larry Gray (bass), and Robert Shy (drums). Tuesday through Thursday, August 21 through 23, 8 and 10 PM, Friday and Saturday, August 24 and 25, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, August 26, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.