Thursday, January 8, 2009

Roger Kellaway: Live at the Jazz Standard

IPO Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 1.8.09
Buy CD: Live at the Jazz Standard

I often wonder if jazz fans realize how fortunate they are, that so many of the genre's elder statesmen remain active, playing concerts and recording; pianist, composer and arranger Roger Kellaway is one such talent.

Although not very well known to the public, he's revered by his fellow musicians. Kellaway isn't a household name to the average jazz fan, because much of his work has been associated with writing and arranging for orchestras, ensembles, big bands, film, TV (he wrote the closing theme for “All In The Family”), ballet and stage productions, and as an accompanist for name vocalist like Lena Horn, Elvis Presley, Bobby Darin and Barbra Streisand.

In his spare time, Kellaway has supported the likes of Oliver Nelson, Thad Jones, Eddie Daniels and other straight-ahead jazz greats. Only recently has he begun to play, and record, as a leader.

This two-disc album was released shortly after Kellaway's 69th birthday. It was recorded live during a four-day period at The Jazz Standard in New York City, and features his “all-wood” (drumless) combo. Joining Roger are guitarist Russell Malone, bassist Jay Leonhardt, vibes player Stefon Harris and cellist Borislav Strulev.

The group is modeled along the lines of 1940s and '50s units headed by Nat King Cole, Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson.

Disc one is the swinger; it covers jazz standards such as “Cottontail,” “C Jam Blues,” “Someday My Prince Will Come,” “I'm Beginning to See the Light” and “Take Five.” The second disc features more mid-tempo oldies like “Cherry” and “You Don't Know What Love Is,” and lesser-known selections like “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and “Freddie Freeloader.”

Everything is played immaculately; if you want to hear clean, swinging jazz, this is it. Kellaway plays every piano style prominent from the 1940s through the present day.

Personally, I feel the drummer's absence; I prefer more “bottom” to the rhythm section. But what's present is superb.

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