Kenny Burrell | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Kenny Burrell

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From the moment he came on the scene in the mid-50s, Kenny Burrell established himself as the guitar voice of hard-bop (the earthier and less confrontational form of jazz that evolved directly from bebop). Known for an exceptionally full tone and a rangy harmonic vision, he improvised with speed and power, distilling the complexities of bop into straightforward melodies that could fit in with the music of such widely divergent stylists as John Coltrane, Gil Evans, and Jimmy Smith. By the 80s, Burrell seemed to have lost a lot of the drive that once provided the supple foundation for his swing and prevented his cool lines from getting cold. His tunes and tempos had a worn and tired edge, and Burrell sounded like a man trapped by his past. In recent years, though, he has entered a new phase of his career, in which he has grown into his own history: he now attacks the same music with a lively curiosity, as if discovering these familiar patterns and connections for the first time, making the music sound fresh for his listeners as well. Burrell's accompanying band offers its own compelling attractions. It includes the little-heard and much-admired pianist John Bunch, whose unsentimental romanticism should serve Burrell well; Duffy Jackson, whose chugging, uncluttered percussion may remind you of the late Mel Lewis; and Harry Allen, a young tenor man in the style of Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, making his local debut. Chicago bassist Eddie de Haas rounds out the quintet: his smooth lines and talc-dry tone serve to blend the other instruments, not outboom them, and that makes him an especially sympatico choice for Burrell. Tuesday through next Sunday, September 18, Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase, Blackstone Hotel, 636 S. Michigan; 427-4846.

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