When jazz guitarist and educator Kenny Burrell throws a party at UCLA, it's bound to be a marathon of varied musical offerings. Saturday was no exception, as the founder and pilot of the school's jazz department celebrated his 80th birthday at Royce Hall.
Musical cameos came from many directions and in many forms to perform with and honor the renowned figure. Inevitably, the results were diverse.
Composer Lalo Schifrin's piano trio outing was harmonically rich, yet unsteady in time and congested in phrasing. A student vocal ensemble sang Burrell's We Must Find a Way to Help Us Love Again," proving that as a lyricist, he's a great guitarist. B.B. King and his eight-piece band were bracing for their professionalism and blues authenticity. When the two guitarists conversed on the blues, Burrell looked his happiest. The addition of singers Stevie Wonder and Dee Dee Bridgewater on improvised blues repartee made the concert an event.
Burrell's musical trademark guitarwith low-volume, clean articulation, choice chords and voicings, and a great sense of design to each solowas present each time he played. He led an outfit of his faculty team and the pungent solo and ensemble work of trumpeter Dr. Bobby Rodriguez, pianist Llew Matthews, trombonist George Bohanon and the others that was so good it begged for more than two numbers. They would be tremendous in a club.
Burrell unveiled his new L.A. Jazz Orchestra Unlimited, a sprawling student band with a huge string complement; there were five basses alone. No less than five composers (including John Williams, John Clayton and Burrell himself) wrote the ambitious Suite For Peace." Full of marvelous orchestral harmony, color and movement, it suffered from a lack of unification. Each piece stood alone with scant relation to the whole. The surplus of new musical information was way too much to absorb at that hour. With each movement the crowd further thinned. At the conclusion the house was less than half full, and a scheduled all-skate encore was scratched. At five hours worth of music, that's too much birthday.