As the linchpin of Diana Krall's trio, guitarist Russell Malone reaches a hundred times as many ears as most straight-ahead jazz musicians can--so when I say he could be the most underappreciated guitarist in jazz, people raise their eyebrows. True, his work with the phenomenally successful Canadian gets him plenty of exposure, but that doesn't always translate to recognition: though he's the most musically astute member of Krall's band (and one of the most exciting improvisers in any band), he naturally plays a supporting role when in her company. Even his frequent solos and the showcase Krall gives him in every set don't provide enough room for his huge talent. With his crystalline tone, casual but precise attack, cool-bop rhythms, and effortless lyricism at any tempo, he comfortably shoulders a lineage that extends from Kenny Burrell through Wes Montgomery to Grant Green and the young George Benson. Last year's Sweet Georgia Peach (Impulse) displays his gemlike style far better than his two previous records, and comes closest to capturing the facet of his playing that most distinguishes him from his peers: his unpretentious historicism, which results in a depth few other thirtysomethings can boast. Occasionally with Krall, and more often when he leads his own group (as I heard him do in Europe last summer), Malone references the Okie bebop of swing-era pioneer Charlie Christian, the chordal complexity of Jim Hall, or the prewar Delta blues of Tampa Red; the ease with which he hurtles from then to now can take your breath away. The pianist in his quartet is Chicago native Anthony Wonsey, who has grown in leaps and bounds over the last three years and benefits from Malone's graciousness with the spotlight. Wednesday, 8 PM, Bennett-Gordon Hall, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Jeffrey Henson Scales.