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Jazz at the Bistro by Benny Green & Russell Malone

Benny Green and Russell Malone had already established a rapport that surpasses that of members of an occasional or one-time group. They became friends, understood one another’s styles in great detail, anticipated each other’s thoughts and created a rare interactivity between each other. By the evidence of Jazz at The Bistro, Green and Malone would enjoy playing together, trying out new ideas or testing one another’s reactions, whether they were live before an audience of just relaxing at home.

Jazz at The Bistro has that kind of leisure and sense of fun, and the audience at The Bistro responded as if it were let in on a private conversation.

Which is pretty much what the music on this CD is: a conversation. Often, the two musicians play in arranged fashion, particularly on Cannonball Adderley’s "Wabash," in which their initial unison lines lead into a virtual romp. But more often than not, Green and Malone play individually as one sets up the mood for the other. In many instances, the duo adopts a Nat Cole style (minus bass), Green’s block chords accented by Malone’s rhythm guitar as it lays down a nudging sense of motion. Green returns the favor, lightly comping as Malone develops his solo in a mutual exchange that is present throughout the CD. The effectiveness of Jazz at The Bistro makes clear Green’s refined sense of play when such play is shared. For example, compare his work on his solo recording, Green’s Blues, fairly serious in its respect for his piano elders, to the frolic of Jazz at The Bistro.

Both musicians establish a sense of entertainment that the audience audibly appreciates, whether Malone wrings out of a note all of its blues-drenched potential or whether Green teases with subtle quotes, like "Wives and Lovers" within "A Bientôt." The enthusiasm of the inaudible reactions ("ah’s," "yeah’s") and the clarity of the applause suggest an intimate atmosphere appropriate to the duo’s classy demeanor.

The choice of tunes matches the ease with which Green and Malone, as confident professionals, develop their work. The signature vamp of "Sing (Sing a Song)" draws in the audience immediately with anticipation of what’s to come, and the canny duo doesn’t disappoint with a "Candy Man" quote and other hooks. As contrasts and complements, Green and Malone individually play first "Killing Me Softly" and then "How Deep Is Your Love?" Their trading of the tunes is representative of the mutual respect shown throughout the CD, the 2 chorded instruments staying out of the other’s way when not being lightly supportive. Green’s debt to Oscar Peterson is plainly evident on "Killing Me Softly," his dramatic runs and his classical references being lessons well learned. Then, Malone’s earthiness on "How Deep Is Your Love?" carries a tune associated with the disco era into a more universal realm of jazz standards.

The supportive nature of Jazz at The Bistro, recorded over 4 nights in St. Louis, includes near the end of the recording 2 originals played by each of the composers with class, grace, comfort and respect for their audience: the leisurely "Quiet Girl" by Benny Green and the gossamer "Hand-Told Stories" by Russell Malone.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Benny Green & Russell Malone
  • CD Title: Jazz at the Bistro
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2003
  • Record Label: Telarc
  • Musicians: Benny Green, piano. Russell Malone, guitar.
  • Rating: Four Stars
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