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JAZZ REVIEW

Malone with guitar: so very expressive

He swings effortlessly through diverse tunes from the Carpenters, `Brigadoon' and more.

March 10, 2007|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

If, as some observers suggest, the guitar is beginning to replace the saxophone as the spotlight instrument of jazz, then Russell Malone has to be considered one of the players responsible for its growing eminence. His performance at the Jazz Bakery on Wednesday night was a convincing combination of versatility, inventiveness and swing.

Any Malone performance will draw head shakes of wonder over his instrumental mastery, his capacity to move effortlessly across the guitar's enormous expressive potential. And this program, with its stylistically diverse collection of songs, was no exception. Malone romped through originals such as the jaunty "He Said What?" and the floating rhythms of "Flirt" -- both from his latest MaxJazz CD, "Live at the Jazz Standard." He roved easily from a unique take on the Carpenters' wedding standard "We've Only Just Begun" to a groove-driven "Blues for Mulgrew." And he opened the Sinatra classic "Witchcraft" with a casually virtuosic cadenza before urging the old standard into a revival of two-beat dance rhythm style.

Most intriguing of all, Malone included a pair of tunes not often heard in a jazz context: "The Heather on the Hill," from the Lerner and Loewe musical "Brigadoon" and Cole Porter's "Do I Love You?" The former was specially impressive, rendered as an exquisite solo number, with Malone painting the melody within a delicate filigree of moving counter lines. As with "Witchcraft," it was the sort of extraordinarily difficult thing that Malone repeatedly does with consummate ease.

Malone was ably supported by the appropriately eclectic piano work of Danny Grissett and the supportive, if occasionally clunky-sounding, rhythm team of bassist Tassili Bond and Montez Coleman. But the evening belonged, as it should, to Malone. Once known primarily as the guitarist with Diana Krall, he has now firmly established himself in the front line of contemporary, mainstream jazz.

*

Russell Malone Quartet

Where: Jazz Bakery, 3233 Helms Ave., L.A.

When: 8 and 9:30 tonight and Sunday

Price: $35 tonight, $30 Sunday

Contact: (310) 271-9039, www.jazzbakery.com

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