Barney Kessel: Viva el Toro!


Viva el Toro!


Barney Kessel (guitar)


Modern Jazz Performances from Bizet's Carmen (Contemporary/OJC 269)

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Barney Kessel (guitar), Ray Linn (trumpet), Harry Betts (trombone), Herb Geller (alto sax), André Previn (piano), Joe Mondragon (bass), Shelly Manne (drums),

Justin Gordon (tenor sax), Chuck Gentry (baritone sax)


Composed by Georges Bizet; adapted by Barney Kessel


Recorded: Los Angeles, CA, December 1958


Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

The late-'50s craze for jazz versions of Broadway and television shows scored hits (several fine Porgy and Bess albums; the jazz-paced Peter Gunn and Staccato private-eye TV series) and silly misses (Victory at Sea? The Sound of Music?). One odd release had no contemporaneous referent, but was great fun nonetheless: Bizet's beloved opera Carmen as jauntily reshaped by Barney Kessel, and played by the guitarist, Andre Previn and Shelly Manne (all popular Contemporary Records regulars) plus a smattering of saxes, brass, woodwinds and others.

The album's cartoon cover of a mean-looking yet comical bull (a parody, rose-in-his-teeth Ferdinand looming over Kessel's abandoned specs) warned of the album's good-humored intentions, as did the very first cut, "Swingin' the Toreador," with reeds and ready guitar atop Joe Mondragon's walking bass. But hipper and cooler (yes! the West Coast Fifties!) is the track "Viva el Toro!" merrily reworking Bizet's "March of the Toreadors." The ensemble steps out in a sprightly non-march, letting the lightly Latin beat remind us of the familiar tune, and then sideslips into a cowbell-driven Afro-Cuban montuno, accented by the counterpoint of Herb Geller's alto, Ray Linn's trumpet and Harry Betts's trombone – the soloists bobbing and weaving in and out and over each other, Africa to Andalucia, Havana to Hollywood.

Latin Jass: in the parlance of those cheerier times, not profound maybe, but still a gas.

Reviewer: Ed Leimbacher

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