Vinnie Burke (b), Urbie Green (tb), Al Cohn (ts), Eddie Costa (p), Joe Puma, Jimmy Raney, Kenny Burrell, Paul Palmieri, Bobby Grillo (g), Jimmy Campbell, Joe Morello (d), Dick Wetmore (vln), Calo Scott (cello)
Reference: FSRCD 998
Bar code: 8427328609982
Bassist Vinnie Burke (1921-2001) was born in Newark, New Jersey. He began playing violin and guitar early in life, but when he lost the use of his little finger in a munitions factory accident he switched to double bass. Vinnie played with the small groups of Joe Mooney, Marian McPartland, Don Elliott and Tal Farlow, and with the big bands of Sauter-Finnegan and Benny Goodman, as well as in a number of groups he led.
The album Vinnie Burke All-Stars features two groups, a quartet (piano, guitar, bass and drums), and a septet with a somewhat unusual instrumentation, including two guitars, tenor, trombone and rhythm. The laid back repertoire includes three originals by Burke plus three standards and a jazz classic, all swinging, middle tempo tunes. The quartet sides display some hard charging, with the four men getting plenty of variety in their performances. The whole album is punctuated with logical, coherent and strong solos by Burke of course, but also by Jimmy Raney, Joe Puma, Al Cohn, and Urbie Green. It is worth noting though, that it is pianist Eddie Costa who contributes the most substantial and consistently interesting solos.
The basic String Jazz Quartet on the second album, appears only on three of the tracks —and it is augmented on the rest by brushes and another guitar— and the interplay within the group Burke assembled for this date is remarkable. Aside from his full toned bass, Calo Scott manages to communicate his message pulling a strong, jazz-based feeling from his cello, while Wetmore’s violin is always present without being overpowering. On the tracks with Kenny Burrell we find him in full control of his instrument, and Campbell’s lends a fine base and interesting accents for the group with a clever use of —wait for it— the Manhattan Telephone Directory.
"Originally schooled on violin and guitar, Vinnie Burke redirected his creative energies to contrabass out of necessity brought about by an accident at a factory day gig. The earlier instruments still informed the approach to his replacement, particularly in the areas of timbre and melody and Burke became a first call session man for a roster of east coast band leaders including Tal Farlow, Marian McPartland and singer Chris Conner. There were also opportunities to organize sessions. All-Stars and His String Jazz Quartet collects two of the three albums that Burke released under his name. Together, they present his substantial bull fiddle talents in a handful of stimulating contexts that also show him to have been an accomplished leader.
All-Stars benefits greatly from the presence of one of Burke’s closest associates, pianist Eddie Costa. The latter employed the bassist in his trio, and the rapport established in that context transfers directly the three sessions that comprise the original album. The majority of pieces are by a quartet that combines the pair with guitarist Jimmy Raney and drummer Joe Morello, on loan from the Dave Brubeck Quartet. The most adventurous piece, “Vin-Tin-Tin” juxtaposes a driving melodic figure that flirts with atonality with staggered solos. Another original, “Unison Blues” swaps in guitarist Joe Puma and drummer Jimmy Campbell for Raney and Morello without missing a beat. Three more tunes add tenorist Al Cohn and trombonist Urbie Green, but it’s the more streamlined ensembles that deliver the best results.
On String Jazz Quartet Burke explores an idea that his later employer Gerry Mulligan would borrow and expand on to significantly greater commercial success. The order of titular modifiers is important as the ensembles assembled are first and foremost jazz-grounded rather than classically inclined. Violinist Dick Wetmore, cellist Calo Scott, and guitarist Bobby Grillo join Burke as the core group. Kenny Burrell and Paul Palmieri guest as electric guitarists in a tune ratio of five to one. Lastly, there’s a kit-less Campbell, returning for six numbers to play “brushes on Manhattan telephone directory.” That last addition has gimmick written all over it, but his contributions actually bolster the bands’ rhythmic integrity, particularly on a delightfully fisheye version of “A Night in Tunisia.” Burke solos cogently and concisely on basically every piece and the disc’s generous 74+ minute duration flies by in a finger pluck, er, snap!!
—Derek Taylor (March 4, 2021)
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