Kenny Burrell – “Guitar Forms” (1965)

This is my second foray into the list of jazz recommendations my buddy Dave sent me the other day. I don’t generally think of guitar when I think of jazz; usually it’s horns and woodwinds that come to mind. So I was a bit intrigued to hear what Burrell had in store for me.

By the time Guitar Forms came out in 1965 Kenny Burrell was already a veteran of at least two dozen albums, an accomplished and mature musician. And his talent comes through on this album, one specifically arranged to allow him to express himself using different guitar stylings. The opening track “Downstairs” has a bit of a country feel to it, and then Burrell pivots to the beautiful Spanish stylings of the nearly 10 minute “Lotus Land,” a composition in which the backing band meanders a bit stylistically, allowing the guitarist to set the overall tone. It’s a stunning piece, a 10 minute song that actually feels like it’s too short because you want to enjoy it just a little bit longer.

On a completely unrelated tangent, one of the coolest things about jazz records, especially older ones, is the liner notes. They’re so detailed that it’s almost like studying the album as an academic or historian would. My vintage copy of Guitar Forms is a gatefold, with one of the two sections in the middle devoted entirely to linter notes – 17 paragraphs in all, including a full paragraph dedicated to each one of the album’s nine songs. You can get a serious jazz education just from reading liner notes.

Another intriguing track on Guitar Forms is Burrell’s version of “Greensleeves”, a song that is literally hundreds of years old (♠) yet continues to retain its hold on us generation after generation. His take on this old classic maintains enough of the arrangement to feel familiar, but wanders further afield enough to not just feel like yet another cover.

I’m still not 100% sold on guitar jazz – Guitar Forms is certainly beautiful, but my preference is still for the more hard bop style. But I’m glad that Dave is helping to open my ears to some of these other talented musicians and differing styles.

(♠) The earliest known reference to the song is from 1580, meaning it was something like 385 years old when Burrell released his version.