as much smooth as you can be
Be Yourself, off God bless the child, 1971
Kenny Burrell‘s guitaristry is well-documented in his years with Oscar Peterson and on his first dates as a leader on the Blue Note label, but God Bless the Child, his only date for CTI in 1971, is an under-heard masterpiece in his catalog. Burrell’s band for the set includes bassist Ron Carter, percussionist Ray Barretto, Richard Wyands on piano, flutist Hubert Laws, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, and drummer Billy Cobham. CTI’s house arranger, Don Sebesky, assembled and conducted the strings in a manner that stands strangely and beautifully apart from his other work on the label. Sebesky understood Burrell’s understated approach to playing guitar. Burrell didn’t belong with the fusioneers, but he could groove better than any of them. Sebesky built a moody, atmospheric soundscape behind him, one that was as impressionistic as it was illuminating of a player who could dig in and chop it up — as he does on his own composition “Love Is the Answer” and “Do What You Gotta Do” — and stroke it smooth and mellow as on the title track, the truly sublime “Be Yourself,” and Thad Jones‘ “A Child Is Born.” The Legacy CD remaster also includes the only three outtakes from the session, an alternate of the Jones tune, and two brief but gorgeous solos on “Ballad of the Sad Young Men” and on Kurt Weill‘s “Lost in the Stars.” This is Burrell at his level best as a player to be sure, but also as a composer and as a bandleader. Magnificent.