Kenny Burrell “Special Requests”


Kenny Burrell

Dr. Dave’s Reviews

Kenny Burrell and Larry Coryell, two jazz masters, have cemented their reputations with relatively new offerings on High Note Records.

Jazz guitar came into vogue after the invention of the carbon microphone and the condenser microphone, used regularly by 1927, which allowed better, more refined acoustics in the studio. Jazz bands quickly abandoned the then-widely used banjo in favor of the guitar, which could now be recorded adequately.

Innovators on the instrument emerged such as Carl Kress, Charlie Christian, Tal Farlow and others who became well-known soloists as the condenser microphone captured the subtleties of their work. Kenny Burrell and later Larry Coryell became two of the more recent innovators on jazz guitar.

Kenny Burrell began his career in Detroit during the bop era and played with most of the jazz greats including John Coltrane, Donald Byrd, Billie Holiday, Stanley Turrentine, Elvin Jones and many others. He first recorded in 1951 with Dizzy Gillespie and became a mainstay of the fabled Blue Note and Prestige stables during their heydays of the mid 1950s to the mid 1960s.  He continued to record dozens of albums during the next three decades with mixed results.  Some of them captured the bop passion of Burrell while others were subtle to the point of somnolesence.   In 1978, the guitarist also joined the faculty at UCLA.

In Special Requests (and Other Favorites): Live at Catalina’s (High Note, HLP 7252, 180 gram vinyl), recorded in November 2012 and released in 2013, Burrell captures his former glory.  He starts with Benny Golson’s often-recorded “Killer Joe,” which features the veteran hard-bop tenor sax of Justo Almario and the driving piano of the much-neglected Tom Ranier.  Burrell adds some tasty licks to the hard-bopping festivities.  He continues with Freddie Hubbard’s beautiful ballad, “Little Sunflower,” which showcases Almario’s flute.  Burrell ends side one with “The Summer Knows,” a tasteful, Spanish-tinged gem in the hands of Burrell and pianist Ranier.

On side two, Burrell chooses the standard “Make Someone Happy,” which allows him to unleash a single-note attack along with saxman Almario and pianist Rainer. He follows with “Bye Bye Blackbird,” which Burrell and his colleagues turn into a hard-bop romp.  He ends with “In a Sentimental Mood,” a classic by Ellington who named Burrell as his favorite guitarist.  Burrell turns the song into a blues bonanza.  As with the other tunes, bassist Tony Dumas and drummer Clayton Cameron provide an able and steady rhythm section.  In all, Special Requests shows that Kenny Burrell can still deliver after more than 60 years on the scene.  It stands as one of his best albums along with his earlier Blue Note and Prestige dates.  Rating:  8


Dr. Dave Szatmary

Author, Rockin’ In Time



Rating System:


10 to 9   Classic album

8 to7     Great record

6 to 5     Solid effort

4 to 3    Fans will like it

2 to 0     Avoid at all costs