Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 6, No. 4, 2007

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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
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Bernard Dubé
Phil Nixon
Robert Rotondo
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
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Tommy Emmanuel
John Stetch
Susie Arioli
Coral Egan
Diana Krall
Stacey Kent
Carol Welsman
Aldo Romano
Denzal Sinclaire
Madeleine Peyroux
Bireli Lagrene
Sonido Isleño
Provost & Lachapelle
Kevin Breit
Sophie Milman
Annie Poulain
Badi Assad
Donato & Bouchard
Ingrid Jensen
John Roney
Montreal Jazz Festival 2006 EMI Classics







Piano Keyboard


by Robert J. Lewis

Featured artist: RUSSELL MALONE

How do you get noticed when you’re playing behind one of the most beautiful, sensuous women to ever grace a jazz podium, who within seconds of her appearance has already gotten under the skin of every music-minded male in the audience. I’m of course waxing symphonic over Diana Krall, the event that caused Elvis Costello to break faith with his atheism.

To see guitarist Russell Malone supporting Diana is to hardly see him at all, so apparently shy and self-effacing is he: all indigo serious and totally concentrated on listening and playing. But in case you haven’t noticed, Malone has been invited to play and/or record with the likes of Natalie Cole, Dianne Reeves, Roy Hargrove, Cyrus Chestnut and Patti Austin, which isn’t bad notice in a very competitive field.

And about that ‘shyness’-- that wildly false note went by the wayside when I saw him perform at the 2007 Montreal Jazz Festival. With the exception of Tommy Emmanuel, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone so naturally extroverted and at home on stage, as comfortable as Canadians indoors in the depths of winter. When Russell Malone plays live, he not only makes a point of making the audience a part of the musical happening, he plays those notes masterfully. Which is to say, the many moods of Malone are always in service of the situation and song under consideration.

Despite long-time peer recognition, Malone is only beginning to get known by the larger public. Since 1992, he has quietly recorded seven albums that include lots of originals. He modestly claims that he only came into his own when he turned 35 (he’s now 44), when he realized that he was trying too hard to answer to others’ expectations instead of his own, and that the record label he needed had to be one that served the musician before the market. He now records with the indie label Outside Music.

To unravel the essential Malone is to gravitate toward the sound that appeals to him when playing the music that best defines him: the ballads he loves and plays so effortlessly well. No matter how large or small the venue, Malone’s contagious inner calm and confidence always translate into those gorgeously braided, willowy chord progressions that flow like easy ripples on a still lake in a perfect summer day, while his warm single note improvisations recall the tingly, water ping effect the great Oscar Peterson was able to produce on the ivories.

Compared to Pat Metheny’s heavily synthesized sound, Malone’s is organic, and like the person himself, is more available and exposed. As a choice and statement, it reveals how Malone feels about himself in the world, just as Metheny’s sound situates himself in that same world.

The Metheny note is metal-coated and downtown slick; it is sent off into the world pre-packaged in a carapace. If the Malone note is embraced for its warmth, the Metheny for its chill, which isn’t to say that from its own materials the latter doesn’t fail to weave a particular spell that identifies the guitarist to audiences worldwide. The listener readily embraces it, much like he embraced the below-zero Jimmy Smith Hammond B-3 organ sound when it first hit the streets in the 50s, because it toughened and tempered him, provided him with a groove that enabled him to better negotiate the malaises of modern times. And if purists tend to refuse that sound, they cannot deny its historical relevance in the context of jazz since it responds to a direct psychic need that facilitates the mind’s increasingly desperate quest for equilibrium in a world whose imbalances and dislocations have become all too mainstream.

Concerning Malone’s vast repertoire that runs the gamut from the ballads to Latin, R & B and even rock, some have accused the guitarist of being all over the map. Malone’s best answer is that it’s the performer’s prerogative to play what moves him, just as it’s the listener’s choice to sign off: borders are convenient labels record producers come up with to better isolate and sell their product.

Since so few guitarists are capable of pulling it off, the growing contingent of Russell Malone devotees are hopeful the maestro will finally commit himself to a solo CD comprised of the slow stuff he confesses to liking so much; original ballads made unique by madly inspired, rhapsodic chord progressions that are signature plaintive and sweet, and ever so lush with life. Even though the lithium-light ascents and descents come fast and delirious, they possess a seamless quality as if the legato effect is mysteriously at work, which speaks to the ease with which he plays and why the introspective, meditative quality of his ballads is never compromised. It is among his many accomplishments that there are only a handful of guitarists whose passing chords are so distinct and substantial as to be equal to melody. For this reason alone, Russell Malone must surely be counted among today’s elite guitarists

In light of his prodigious gifts, there’s no reason not to believe that his best years -- and he has already entered the zone -- are yet to come.

Listen to Russell play and ‘sing’ the very beautiful Irving Berlin ballad, " Be Careful, It’s My Heart."



John Coltrane
Miles Davis
Thelonius Monk
Charlie Mingus
Oscar Peterson
Charlie Parker
Dizzy Gillespie
Wes Montgomery
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