Artist: Benny Green
Album: Happiness! Live At Kuumbwa
Quality: mp3, 320 kbps
The St. Vitus Dance (04:33)
Down Under (06:53)
Martha’s Prize (06:46)
Sixth Avenue (06:37)
Pittsburgh Brethren (10:13)
Twisted Blues (03:35)
Happiness is listening to Benny Green. He brings joie de vivre to the piano keys with his Herculean chops, in-the-pocket soulfulness, and tight arrangements, all of which can be heard in spades on this live date.
The scene for this spirited recording was the Kuumbwa Jazz Center—a gem of a venue in California that’s been a near-annual stop for Green for more than three decades. This particular event, taking place in June of 2016, found him in his favored trio configuration, covering (mostly) lesser known numbers penned by jazz greats. Sounds and styles only vary ever so slightly, as the energy rarely wanes and (hard) bop-based swing largely remains the thing. If you know Green’s work already, you’ll note right away that he’s in his element; and if you’ve never heard the former wunderkind turned wise veteran, this isn’t such a bad place to start.
It’s hard to get through a single song here without marveling at some aspect of Benny Green’s artistry and/or this trio’s chemistry. Take “The St. Vitus Dance” dance, for example. This Horace Silver oldie-but-goodie is putty in this band’s hands. A tight head leads straight into solo territory, where the pianist carves out and navigates switchbacks across the 88s and invites drummer Rodney Green into the action before heading back to the familiar. It’s a performance that’s indicative of the way this trio operates on the whole. Then there’s Freddie Hubbard’s “Down Under,” where a semi-shuffling gait carries things forward until bassist David Wong steps into the spotlight; Cedar Walton’s lively “Martha’s Prize,” which finds piano and bass perfectly in sync and finds the leader delivering some impossibly fast right hand runs; a second nod to Walton in the form of an attractively funky “Sixth Avenue”; a snazzy jaunt through Thad Jones’ “50-21” with Rodney Green putting his brushes to good use on the snare; and a hip-as-can be stroll through Duke Pearson’s “Chant,” a bluesy winner that finds Benny Green digging in with some firm-handed statements.
The longest track on the album—”Pittsburgh Brethren,” sitting in the penultimate slot—also happens to be the sole original on the playlist. It further solidifies Benny Green’s hard bop cred—not that he needs to do that for anybody at this point—and nods toward the jazz history of the Steel City, a land that produced and/or nurtured Ahmad Jamal, Art Blakey, Ray Brown, Billy Eckstine, Sonny Clark, and numerous other giants of this music. There’s not much to say after that, so a short and peppy trip through Wes Montgomery’s “Twisted Blues” works just fine as a closer. There’s no shortage of cooking trio dates in Benny Green’s discography already, but there’s always room for more when they sound like this.
By DAN BILAWSKY