Barney Kessel: Bossa Nova

Swinging easy with a twangy guitar and a Latin beat

Those seeking Barney Kessel’s legendary jazz stylings should look elsewhere. As a guitarist in the ‘50s, Kessel was renowned for his cool, bop-inspired playing in small quartets on sessions with the Contemporary label. But in the early ‘60s he signed with Reprise and embarked on a series of pop records. This was hardly new territory for Kessel, as he’d been backing pop musicians for years, and was a first-call guitarist for pop titans like Phil Spector; but as a front-man, this was a break from the jazz sessions he’d previously led. This bossa nova inspired entry from 1962 finds Kessel mostly taking a back seat to sharp, lounge-inspired band orchestrations. His guitar playing here is twangy pop, with no jazz inflections or blue notes, and the repertoire of standards is given Brazilian beats. The horn charts are tight, and when Kessel does pick, he sounds great – but this isn’t a jazz album, or even a guitar album; it’s a pop instrumental album in league with contemporaneous works by Neal Hefti, Billy Strange, Lalo Schifrin, John Barry and others. This is a sizzling, swinging treat if you approach it on its merits, rather than as a lesser entry in Barney Kessel’s catalog of guitar recordings. This is also available on CD as a 3-fer with Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Contemporary Latin Rhythms. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

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