WBGO Radar

Russell Malone: "Love Looks Good On You"

guitarist russell malone

For guitarist Russell Malone, melody is the magic - and it's all so apparent on his upcoming High Note release, Love Looks Good On You.

As Russell says in the liner notes, "I prefer to play songs that stick in my head, and the listener's head - paired with harmonic schemes that might prompt imaginative improvisations."

Malone’s investigations are always fresh – whether he’s playing amazing single lines, displaying form, history and humor, or playing in hushed tones that make notes weep.

The disc features a quartet with pianist Rick Germanson, bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer Willie Jones III, and Malone works his six strings through nine tunes, specifically selected for their melody.

Russell and pianist Mulgrew Miller worked often together. Of the many Mulgrew moments, all which make us miss him so much, "Soul Leo" starts this new release with a lion heart for the composer and the music within.

On the album’s title track, Malone's composition gives melody the main stage, a gorgeous piece yearning for a lyric to go along.

Thad Jones wrote "The Elder" for Count Basie, with guitarist Freddie Green specifically in mind. One of Russell's favorite composers, Thad's pad is just right for this walking blues.

"Ellie's Love Theme" was written by Isaac Hayes for the movie Shaft. Slower than the original, Russell and his bandmates give this beautiful melody a relaxing turn.

"Your Zowie Face," from James Coburn's movie In Like Flint, brings a pretty picture to the playing, where the guitarist explores with single lines that float amongst the piano, bass and drums. Germanson's piano work shines.

Drummer Joe Chambers' "Mirrors" is a beautifully quiet reflection.

Saxophonist George Coleman's "Amsterdam After Dark" lights up the original, with Malone showing an indefatigable array of ideas, Germanson's piano responding in kind, the bass and drums locked in an all-ahead groove.

In similar fashion, Freddie Hubbard's "Suite Sioux" from his "Red Clay" days, burns and keeps a promise to an old friend to one day record this.

Malone learned "Lift Every Voice and Sing" in elementary school. With the guitarist's solo expression here, it's an anthem he's obviously held close to his heart throughout his life.

In the past, Malone has shown us his ability to explore Cole Porter and Oliver Nelson classics, a Milt Jackson vibe, suit up the Isley Brothers for a fresh outing, revisit an old TV western, and offer us tastes of pecan pie, sweet Georgia peach and git-in-your-soul blues along the way.

Love Looks Good On You is a welcome addition to this list. It comes out February 17th, and Russell shares his musical life with his quartet February 17 & 18 at New York’s Jazz Standard.

   - Gary Walker, WBGO music director

The audio for this Radar is no longer available. Visit iTunes or Amazon to preview and purchase.

The audio fro this

Checkout more WBGO Radar...