During the s, with rock and some aspects of jazz moving closer together, it won a more significant place - and a line began that led from John McLaughlin and Pat Metheny, via John Scofield, to musicians like Charlie Hunter today. Barney Kessel, who has died aged 80, was one of the founding fathers of that increasingly substantial tradition. The Christian style, when it emerged with Goodman in , was not only a completely new approach to guitar playing, but represented a boldness of harmonic vision, and a rhythmic audacity that challenged the routinised swing phrasing of every ensemble he played in. Kessel was a promising guitarist in his home town of Muskogee, Oklahoma - and the only white player in a black swing group - when he met and jammed with Christian, who was passing through on tour.
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CD Capsule Beautiful work by a luminary of the jazz guitar. Background Barney Kessel , perhaps the most celebrated jazz guitarist of the s and 60s, was a disciple of jazz pioneer Charlie Christian , whose earlier work was instrumental in introducing the amplified, or "electric" guitar to jazz.
Kessel spent most of his musical life in and around Los Angeles , which meant countless studio sessions and the opportunity to continually hone his skills. He was technically impeccable and at the same time a creative improviser. On slow ballads his playing had a luminous, melting quality while on up-tempo numbers his attack was crisp, clear and intense.
Among the very best of these were the first ones he made. Luckily for us, four of those early albums have been re-issued in this two-CD collection. In all three albums, Kessel surrounds himself with top-flight, technically proficient musicians able to follow his split-second arrangements.
Pay particular attention to the work of Shelly Manne, a marvelous jazz drummer who appears on nearly every track. The fourth album, To Swing or Not to Swing, a traditional swing-era jam session, is in a different genre from the other three. The track opens with the melody played in unison by guitar, piano and alto sax. From 0. You may want to wash it down with a Bugs Bunny cartoon or two. In the first third of so of the track, played in unison by guitar, oboe and piano, Latin rhythms alternate with a driving jazz beat, generating more excitement than either could alone.
Listen for the bit of dissonance inserted at the very end. Notice that each solo follows the same pre-ordained pattern: first a bit of scored introduction, then a measure of "stop-time," in which the rhythm section is silent for a moment, leaving the soloist playing alone, and finally two choruses of improvisation.
All three solo improvisations are outstanding, creating beautiful and original variations on the melody without letting it slip away. You might want to include this track in your "Lost on a Desert Island" list.
Listen to this first, then go to Kessel. The track opens with a straight rendition by solo oboe backed by guitar, and then at , Kessel takes a turn at playing the melody straight. At , listen for a bit of counterpoint, with the oboe playing behind the guitar. At , a little improvisation by Kessel notice the bit of "Oriental" flavor here , and at the piece closes out with another oboe solo with guitar counterpoint.
Track 24, "64 Bars on Wilshire" Like "North of the Border" track 12 , this is a written-on-the-spot kind of tune, partly arranged, partly improvised. Think of it as tightly controlled frenzy, and notice how the discipline makes it all the more exciting.
The basic theme is laid out first, with Manne adding tight drum interjections. Notice at the way he inserts a quick roll on the snare drum to kick the music in the pants and push the players into another arranged segment.
Then listen closely to the interplay between the dominant tenor sax and the subsidiary guitar. At , a piano solo that manages to be delicate despite the speed; at a solid tenor sax solo; and then at , three choruses of nice guitar improvisation.
At , more counterpoint between tenor sax and guitar, and finally at the ensemble returns to the basic theme to close things out. Disc 2 These three tracks are from the album "Music to Listen to Barney Kessel By," recorded several years after the first two albums. Here Kessel expands his palette of wind instruments to include clarinet, bass clarinet, oboe, bassoon, flute and English horn. It yields a lush, intriguing sound, a treat for the ears although some of the meticulously arranged tracks are barely jazz.
All those woodwinds really help! The result is a joyous feast of sound, with lots of room for some wonderful drumming. The track begins with Kessel stating the theme, accompanied by the assembled horns. Then at , Kessel plays the main melody with a Latin beat underneath. At , listen for a remarkable dialogue between guitar and drums, a musical conversation in which Shelly Manne proves that in the right hands, the drum can be an expressive "instrument," not just a tool to mark the beat.
At , a return to the basic theme, stated by the guitar and answered by the ensemble. At , the piece is closed out with guitar improvisation over a strong jazz beat. Track 17, "Mountain Greenery" A delightful song by Rogers and Hart, with chuckle-out-loud lyrics filled with puns and internal rhymes. The roller coaster ride is exhilarating. Right from the start, he flirts with the melody, surprising us with a bit of dissonance and depriving us of a steady beat.
At a piano solo, and then at , various combinations of instruments create more delightful dissonance. Track 22, "Fascinating Rhythm" This great, happy Gershwin tune, written in , seems to have been made for jazz, and its best vocal interpretations are by Mel Torme.
Kessel begins his version with the same tantalizing approach he used in "Mountain Greenery," giving us a stretch of rhythm, then taking it away, then bringing it back. At , a solid jazz beat takes over, with an extended guitar solo that seems a bit anticlimactic after all the opening fireworks.
Barney Kessel Jazz Guitar Licks
CD Capsule Beautiful work by a luminary of the jazz guitar. Background Barney Kessel , perhaps the most celebrated jazz guitarist of the s and 60s, was a disciple of jazz pioneer Charlie Christian , whose earlier work was instrumental in introducing the amplified, or "electric" guitar to jazz. Kessel spent most of his musical life in and around Los Angeles , which meant countless studio sessions and the opportunity to continually hone his skills. He was technically impeccable and at the same time a creative improviser. On slow ballads his playing had a luminous, melting quality while on up-tempo numbers his attack was crisp, clear and intense. Among the very best of these were the first ones he made. Luckily for us, four of those early albums have been re-issued in this two-CD collection.
The Back Page: Barney Kessel at the White House 1981
Barney Kessel Chord Melody & Chord Solo: Satin Doll