Friday, January 26, 2018

Guitarist Kenny Burrell's Swing Classic "A Generation Ago Today" Revived After Half A Century

It's been nearly two generations since jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell's tribute to pioneering electric guitarist Charlie Christian and "The King of Swing" Benny Goodman, A Generation Ago Today, was released. The long-out-of-print album has been revived and is now, for the first time in the U.S., available digitally and on CD with its original cover, marking the first time this homage has been available in its original form since being released half a century ago in 1967. The album includes new liner notes by noted jazz journalist Kirk Silsbee. Order and stream A Generation Ago 

Recorded at several sessions during 1966-67 with altoist Phil Woods, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Grady Tate, A Generation Ago Today features Burrell and his all-star quintet performing swing classics that Christian recorded during 1939-41 with the Benny Goodman Sextet. Rather than merely copying Christian's solos, Burrell plays creatively within the swing format, coming up with fresh statements of his own that add to the legacy of the timeless music. "As Long As I Live," which adds vibraphonist Mike Mainieri to the group, is given a Brazilian tinge that hints at bossa-nova. "Poor Butterfly" begins as a ballad for Burrell's guitar before the second half features Woods playing heated doubletime lines. The most extended selection, "Stompin' At The Savoy," is a joyful jam with plenty of interplay between Burrell and Woods and a fine solo by Carter. Among the other highlights are "Rose Room," "A Smooth One," and the cooking uptempo blues "Wholly Cats;" the latter has a guest appearance by pianist Richard Wyands.

Burrell, a major guitarist since he recorded with Dizzy Gillespie in the early 1950s, came from the world of bebop yet was versatile enough to lead one of the first guitar-bass-drums "power trio" on the 1959 Blue Note album, A Night At The Vanguard, to record with Gil Evans arrangements on Guitar Forms, and to be an important part of soul jazz jams with organist Jimmy Smith and tenor-saxophonist Stanley Turrentine.

The years 1966 and 67 were a very interesting time in jazz history. High-energy avant-garde jazz (sometimes called "The New Thing"), which was best typified by the explorative flights of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, was having a strong influence. Soul jazz, grooving and soulful music that was open to the rhythms of R&B and funk, was quite popular. Straightahead hard bop and Dixieland also had their audiences. On A Generation Ago Today, Burrell defied the musical trends of the time. Instead he recorded a change of pace, a timeless exploration of swing tunes. The project gave him an opportunity to pay homage to his early influence Charlie Christian and to make his own statements in a small-group swing setting.

At 86, Burrell is still active today and he has long been an important educator at UCLA. But even in his long career of accomplishments, A Generation Ago Today is one of the milestones.

 A Generation Ago Today Tracklisting

1. As Long As I Live
2. Poor Butterfly                                                                                              
3. Stompin' At The Savoy                                                                                             
4. I Surrender Dear                                                                                          
5. Rose Room                                                                                                   
6. If I Had You                                                                    
7. A Smooth One                                                                                                        
8. Wholly Cats

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