Billboard (p.78) - "Disc one opens with a vibrant cover of Duke Ellington's 'Cottontail' and also features a stylish performance of Paul Desmond's classic 'Take Five'..."
Personnel: Roger Kellaway (piano); Russell Malone (guitar); Borislav Strulev (cello); Stefon Harris (vibraphone); Jay Leonhart (bass instrument).
Many jazz pianists are truly brilliant, and of that there is no doubt. Where Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett, and Chick Corea are usually mentioned first, dozens of other extraordinary players are not mentioned simply because of their name recognition. Roger Kellaway is such a figure, clearly a talented, highly skilled, and universally accessible player whose heightened melodic sense and chops galore easily put him in the class of a musician's musician. A double-CD set live in New York City at the Jazz Standard, this effort should leave no doubt as to Kellaway's worthiness belonging in the upper echelon of mainstream jazz masters. But it would be inaccurate to peg Kellaway a conservative player simply because he is interpreting well-known standards. True, there are echoes of Nat King Cole's pre-vocal bands, and the bright inventions of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Guitarist Russell Malone and bassist Jay Leonhart boost Kellaway's cache, while vibraphonist Stefon Harris is included on several selections. No drummer is included on purpose, heightening the intimacy quotient. This lends to an elastic rhythmic feel, provided primarily by Malone, and it is the guitarist who sparks this ensemble. Give credit to Kellaway for taking liberties on tunes that might never be radio friendly, but are eminently listenable. The spare melody starting an over ten-minute "C Jam Blues," long piano discourse on the 15-minute "Cherry," and easy take of "Freddie Freeloader" stretch most imaginations. Check out the popping percussive guitar playing of Malone on "Cherry," sounding like H. Ray Crawford, as well as the reliable Leonhart's tactful bowed bass solos. Playful counterpoint fuels the jumping "I'm Beginning to See the Light," and a loping "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" moves from delicate tiptoe to traipsing, stepped-up in tempo halfway through. The bopper "Cottontail" sounds most like MJQ or especially Cole in a neat, clean fashion, while the Sonny Rollins evergreen "Doxy" is modified, sounding more like Cannonball Adderley's "Things Are Getting Better." In a reflection of a previous Kellaway combo, cellist Borislav Strulev joins the group for the pianist's original "All My Life," an atmospheric chamber waltz, and the most unique track of the date. Coming in a close second is a reinvented, sly, bluesy and lowdown "Take Five." Harris consistently shines when deigned lead melody maker as on "C Jam Blues," the pretty "Someday My Prince Will Come," a pristinely romantic "The Nearness of You," and the very slow ballad "You Don't Know What Love Is." The finale "52nd Street Theme" is a barn burner, a furious bop vehicle where Kellaway utilizes call and response devices with Harris and Malone, recalling a hypothetical best effort if Terry Gibbs met Oscar Peterson and Herb Ellis. An exceptional recording of depth and substance, listeners will be well served to hear this recording not only in its entirety, but repeatedly, to fully enjoy the professional company of these great modern musicians playing their ever lovin' hearts out. ~ Michael G. Nastos