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Playground by Russell Malone

It could be me. You take a handful of skilled musicians and you’d expect fine music. There is no doubt the musicianship of these players. When you hear music you expect to be immersed in their world that takes you somewhere else or reinterprets what you already know. You cling to melodies or wisps of musical phrases that remind you of a place, thought, feeling, or even a smell. But, you also expect to be challenged. There should be a certain edge to the music; otherwise it’s like sticking Wonder bread into a glass of milk. But that’s me.

Russell Malone’s ‘Playground’ has a range of musical styles, from Strayhorn to the Carpenters. On ‘Something to Live For,’ Malone and his band play it tenderly and gracefully. It is a slow, sweeping arc of delicate passion. And then there is that ubiquitous, clinging and rather loathsome 1970’s pop hit. ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ hardly offers any new interpretation. It remains peppy, smiley-faced, brady-bunched. Sounds like Marcia Brady gone to seed.

There is some grit and grime and grease on ‘Mandela,’ but that is generated from Gary Bartz on alto saxophone. Not Russell Malone. Carole King’s ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ is a masterpiece and there is no denying that Malone playing solo translates it sensitively and bittersweetly. It is done quite well. But, Malone’s overall playing is hardly challenging. It’s what you’d expect and nothing more. His guitar sound is reminiscent of George Benson from some of his 1970’s albums. Maybe that’s why Carole King and Karen Carpenter appear. But that’s me. I like an edge and I like a challenge.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Russell Malone
  • CD Title: Playground
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Record Label: MAXJAZZ
  • Rating: Two Stars
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