“As I’ve gotten older, I’m more interested in the overall feeling of the record.” That’s how guitarist Russell Malone sums up the essence of his new HighNote Records album “Love Looks Good On You”. He once met fellow guitarist Mundell Lowe who explained to him: “Kid, it’s just living. After you’ve lived for a while, you strip away all the horseshit.”
All the horsehit in this case means all the unnecessary notes and so, the song and the melody are at the center of this recording. Russell worked together with the late great Mulgrew Miller in Ron Carter‘s trio and he dedicates the opening track to the master pianist, a song by Miller called “Soul Leo”, a track he first recorded for his 1987 LP “Wingspan”. Miller’s place is taken here by the loose playing of Rick Germanson on this freewheeling cut with wonderful drum work courtesy of Willie Jones III and bassist Gerald Cannon.
The title track is the sole Malone composition here and has a somewhat 70s George Benson feel to it, very dreamy and waiting to be discovered by a lyricist. In the liner notes he says, “I don’t write tunes that have too many notes in the melody…I don’t want to play anything disposable anymore.”
The Thad Jones composition “The Elder” was recorded by Count Basie for his 1962 album “Back With Basie” and had the great Freddie Green on guitar. It’s a fine example for the purpose behind this project: no overblown playing, just the essentials of the melody and stripped-back solos. Isaac Hayes‘ “Ellie’s Love Theme” from the groundbreaking “Shaft” movie is slowed down here to a soulful ballad oozing class, sophistication, and elegance. And “Your Zowie Face” comes from the 1967 movie “In Like Flint” comes across as a swinging and neat affair.
The wonderful Joe Chambers ballad “Mirrors”, which can be found on his 1998 Blue Note album of the same name (and which featured Mulgrew Miller again on piano), adds another dexterous melody to this collection. One of my favorites here is the moving, shuffling groove of “Amsterdam After Dark”, a track written by the brilliant saxophonist George Coleman which he recorded in a whirlwind version in 1977 with the Hilton Ruiz Trio. After the classic “Lift Ev’ry Voice And Sing”, recorded here in a very easy, short and unagitated version, the album closes with Freddie Hubbard‘s “Suite Sioux” on a sexy and romping note, a very welcome return for the versatile playing of Russell Malone reminding us that he is actually one of the best guitarists of our time.