Why do jazz artists record so many live albums compared with other musicians? Most rock bands, folk singers and blues musicians crank out the occasional live recording to document the tour experience for hardcore fans, but a jazz musician with any longevity might release a half-dozen or more live albums during his or her career. Jazz scholars will tell you that at their best, live recordings capture the essence of jazz -- improvised solos that spur the musicians to higher levels of creativity. Record labels -- always focused on the bottom line -- factor in the lower costs of live recordings, especially for jazz albums, which have a comparatively limited potential market.
Whatever compelled Telarc to document Benny Green and Russell Malone in performance here in St. Louis last June, jazz fans will be pleased with the results -- pleased, that is, if they're into subtlety and nuance rather than hard-charging, high-energy riffs. A piano/guitar duo must generate a groove without the basic foundation of bass and drums, which automatically presents a major challenge: Who keeps the time? Fortunately, Green and Malone have the talent and technique to handle that dilemma -- and, because each is willing to give the other plenty of room in the spotlight, everything works out quite nicely. On their version of "Wabash," a burning bop tune written by Cannonball Adderley, Malone supplies an effective, funky bottom, using his guitar like a bass to support Green's up-tempo keyboard solo. Green returns the favor, slipping into a solid left-hand groove to accompany Malone's bluesy guitar solo. There's plenty of variety in terms of repertoire as well. The duo covers tunes by Monk and Coltrane, as well as classic ballads such as "Love Letters" and "When Lights Are Low." There's even a medley of Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly" and the Bee Gees' "How Deep Is Your Love" during which Green creates intricately chorded variations on the Flack song, followed by Malone's jazzy reworking of the Bee Gees' disco standard.
A nod of thanks goes to Telarc for bringing in a top-of-the-line Direct Stream Digital system to record the Jazz at the Bistro performances. The sound quality is exceptional, capturing every note with precision and clarity.