Feeling Free – Barney Kessel

24 03 2008

So at the risk of sounding like some sort of square, I can say that Barney Kessel is one of my favorite guitar players. His album Workin Out got me into jazz guitar in the first place, and I always enjoy putting one of his albums on. His approach to chords has had a great effect on me, and I’ve always loved his complex-yet-sloppy style to single note stuff. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at a record that I think might be one of jazz music’s great accidents.

Feeling Free (1969)

Barney Kessel-guitar, Bobby Hutcherson-vibes, Chuck Domanico-bass, Elvin Jones-drums

This is one album that I really didn’t understand on first listening, but further study has led me to consider this one of Kessel’s best efforts–no matter what the circumstances. Basically, this was Barney’s first album after leaving the comfort and safety of Hollywood studio playing (where he played with everyone from Elvis to The Beach Boys) and his stepping back into the jazz scene. Kessel has always had an old school sound-a product of the 50’s West Coast scene-and on this album he takes that sound and puts it into a very unfamiliar context. He brings in two players that were both heavily steeped in the free jazz/avant-garde scene of the times (Bobby Hutcherson, Elvin Jones) and brings in a VERY forceful and strong anchor (Chuck Domanico). What this adds up to is a very interesting mix of styles that is very exciting to listen to because it’s never comfortable. Most of the album seems to belong to Elvin. He plays a constantly sliding time against Domanico’s anchor and Kessel and Hutcherson’s rhythmic stabbing. This has the effect of what sounds like everyone getting lost, and Elvin taking a drum solo to try and get the band back on track. Domanico’s forceful bass is so at odds with Jones’ give and take feel, that it often sounds like Domanico starts with a solid “1” and midway through the song just picks another “1.”

It’s a really dramatic record because at times the songs sound like they’re literally on the verge of falling apart-but they always hold together somehow. I wish Barney had made a few more album’s in this vane, though it’s possible that some of the drama was real and Barney wasn’t happy with the results. To me, the music opens up another way of thinking about playing “free,” one thats less about typical dark atonal intensity, and more about truly daring unpredictable melodies framed in a very tradition way. Good Times! I’d love to know what other people think of this one-this is just my analysis (or, shit I think about when listening to it).

Check out the opening track Moving Up




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