Blue Note Records 84123

Recorded April 21st 1967

Stanley Turrentine (tnr), Kenny Burrell (gtr), Major Holley Jr (bs), Bill English (drs), Ray Barretto (conga)

1) Chitlins Con Carne 5m 25s, 2) Mule 6m 53s, 3) Soul Lament 2m 39s, 4) Midnight Blue 3m 59s, 5) Wavy Gravy 5m 43s,
6) Gee Baby Ain’t I Good To You 4m 21s, 7) Saturday Night Blues 6m 13s, 8)* Kenny’s Sound 4m 39s, 9)* K Twist 3m 35s

Midnight Blue is one of the most lauded and admired jazz guitar albums in the history of music. The evergreen Detroit born guitarist Kenny Burrell was 36 years old at the time of the recording by Rudy Van Gelder in 1967 and has for over seven decades carried the baton of melodic improvisational jazz forwards from the initial mastery of Charlie Christian and guitar giant Wes Montgomery to become an icon of the instrument in his own right.

He made his major debut with Dizzy Gillespie in 1951 and has gone on to make eighty albums across eight high profile record labels as a leader and very many more within the bands of many jazz giants including Oscar Peterson, John Coltrane, Billie Holiday and Jimmy Smith with whom he recorded the highly popular “Organ Grinder Swing ” album in 1965.

It is sad to note that at the age of 89 Kenny, who was living in Westwood California with his wife Katherine Goodrich, who is 37 years younger than him, is rumoured to be enduring hard times both medically and socially and finds himself totally isolated and having to crowd fund for both his accommodation and physical needs.

Not so long ago he was working as The Director of Jazz Studies in The Herb Albert School of Music at The University of Southern California.

Back in 1967 for the Midnight Blue Session at the Van Gelder Studios in Englewood Cliffs he put together a fine quintet for what was to turn out to be a cornerstone album of the Blue Note label.

On tenor saxophone was Stanley Turrentine from Pittsburgh, a powerful player full of blues and soul filled overtones gained from his early R & B days with Earl Bostic. Bass man Major Holley, a prolific studio musician who also spent time with Duke Ellington, Zoot Sims and the like was an ideal foil for the guitarist with his large rounded tone and impeccable sense of time, alongside the percussion team of ex blues drummer Bill English and the Latin styled conga player originally from Puerto Rica, Ray Barretto.

All the tracks, except one are composed by the guitarist and things kick off with the almost exotic Chitlins Con Carne where Barretto’s congas set the scene for the first of many understated but highly imaginative outings by the leader throughout the album.

Stanley Turrentine provides a blues drenched tenor solo on this one, although he is not offered too many opportunities to shine during the session overall. Mule a tune co-written with Major Holley follows, it has a great feeling of reflective calm about it with intricate guitar lines well responded to by the co-writer’s double bass contribution.

Just as the title suggests Soul Lament is just that with its deep mood and melancholy theme leaving a lasting impact on the listener despite its brief duration. Midnight Blue the title track has perhaps the most memorable thematic lines of the whole recording. It is more up- beat than most with the leader stretching out for most of the track, fully demonstrating why he has always commanded such a high profile in the jazz guitar world.

Double bass and congas set the scene for the strangely titled Wavy Gravy, a mid-tempo swinger again finding the leader in his most creative form with Stanley Turrentine given enough space for a startling passage in the higher register of his instrument on a tune which is full of joy and humour.

It’s a guitar masterclass on the only original tune of the set, a standard of the jazz repertoire Gee Baby Ain’t I Good To You written by Don Redman and Andy Razaf way back in 1929. There is little else but guitar on this over minimal bass and drums, with a truly masterful performance of the theme and improvisation full of enormous imagination and logic.

The LP ends with a deep journey down to the Saturday Night Blues with the tenor saxophonist at last fully in his element with bold and commanding statements, answered in full and supported by bass and guitar before the final fade out. The CD version of the recording contains two bonus tracks as shown above.

These are nowhere near the quality of the seven of the sixty’s vinyl and detract from what, in the original form is a cornerstone record of mid period modern jazz.

This review is of the original vinyl album. The 1999 CD ( 7243 4 95335 2 3) re-issue contains the bonus tracks as indicated* and the complete recording is available on the usual digital platforms.

Looking for more? Check out our round up of the best Kenny Burrell albums here.