Russell Malone

Time for the Dancers

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If 2016's All About Melody showcased Russell Malone's love of a good melodic song, then 2017's Time for the Dancers finds him building upon that sentiment and celebrating his affinity for sweet, rhythmic grooves. The guitarist's third album for High Note, Time for the Dancers is a fluid, engaging production that finds Malone straddling the line between urbane, acoustic jazz standards, earthy funk, and virtuosic balladry. Helping him achieve this superlative balance are longtime bandmates pianist Rick Germanson, bassist Luke Sellick, and drummer Willie Jones III. Together, they play with the kind of nuanced interplay and sensitivity that come with years of live performance -- which they have. With his acoustic, hollow-body guitar and warm, un-effected sound, Malone comes off as a grounded, no-nonsense musician; a swing-friendly progenitor of straight-ahead jazz and standards. All of which is true and evident here. That said, he's also an incredibly soulful improvisationalist with a wide-ranging ear for all kinds of music. What's so invigorating about his approach is just how seamlessly he is able to incorporate all that he hears into one gorgeously realized style. In that sense, he brings to mind a balance of such elder luminaries as Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery, and yes, George Benson. From the buoyant and dreamy, '60s-influenced title track to the bluesy twang of "The Ballad of Hank Crawford," Malone grounds the proceedings with his steady, rhythmic swing and perfectly timed attack. It's a skill most evident on his funk-infused homage to his longtime friend, bassist Lonnie Plaxico, on "Leave It to Lonnie." Centered on a tasty bass riff, the song finds Malone slowly building his groove-based solo, weaving in bits of crunchy atonalism and deliciously bluesy asides. Elsewhere, he applies an equally compelling energy to Jose Feliciano's breezy "Theme from 'Chico and the Man'," and a poetic, gorgeously rendered, classically influenced solo take on Billy Joel's ballad "And So It Goes."

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