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Jazz Review : Burrell and Morrison a Duo to Treasure

January 21, 1995|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Think of some of the great singer-instrumentalist duos of jazz. Billie Holiday and Lester Young: great soul siblings. Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass: sheer musical excellence. Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz: curious but fascinating.

And how about Barbara Morrison and Kenny Burrell?

Doesn't quite ring a bell? Not yet, perhaps, but it will, if the talented duo's work before an enthusiastic crowd at the Jazz Bakery Thursday night becomes a regular event. Although a fair part of the opening set was given to well-crafted, straight-ahead jazz from Burrell's quartet, with Dwight Dickerson on piano, Henry Franklin on bass and Sherman Ferguson on drums, it was the electricity between Burrell and Morrison that energized the evening.

The visual interaction alone was captivating. Burrell is tall and scholarly-looking. With his quiet demeanor, steel-gray hair and metal-rimmed glasses, he could easily pass for a tweed-jacket professor of philosophy. Morrison, in contrast, is an earthy, outgoing performer whose every move communicates a sense of affable joyousness.

Their musical connection was even more entrancing. "Skylark" was sung by Morrison with a gentle, understated, but emotionally intense sensitivity to the song's soaring lyricism. "The Very Thought of You" was more intimate--pensive, loving and appropriately poignant. Burrell was both sensitive accompanist and creative companion, filling, paralleling and countering Morrison's shifts of mood and emphasis. It may not have been Fitzgerald and Pass, but it was very good, indeed.

For the record, the Jazz Bakery's acoustics, a problem at the room since it first opened, continue to show signs of improvement. Artistic director Ruth Price's determined effort to derive reasonable sound from a difficult, high-ceilinged environment has resulted in some odd-looking panels and hangings (although no more odd than the balls hanging from the rafters at the Hollywood Bowl), but the results are slowly beginning to pay off. Aside from the venue's continuing tendency to over-mike the piano, the sound for the Burrell group ranged from passable to excellent, a distinct advancement over other recent bookings.

* The Kenny Burrell Quartet with Barbara Morrison at the Jazz Bakery, 3233 Helms Ave . , Culver City. (310) 271-9039. $20 entrance. Burrell and Morrison play two sets tonight, at 8:30 and 10.

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