Kenny Burrell's guitar artistry is well-documented in his years with Oscar Peterson and on his first dates as a leader on the Blue Note label, but "God Bless The Child", his only date for CTI in 1971, is an under-heard masterpiece in his catalogue. Burrell's band for the set includes bassist Ron Carter, percussionist Ray Barretto, Richard Wyands on piano, flutist Hubert Laws, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, and drummer Billy Cobham. CTI's house arranger, Don Sebesky, assembled and conducted the strings in a manner that stands strangely and beautifully apart from his other work on the label.
Sebesky understood Burrell's understated approach to playing guitar. Burrell didn't belong with the fusioneers, but he could groove better than any of them. Sebesky built a moody, atmospheric soundscape behind him, one that was as impressionistic as it was illuminating of a player who could dig in and chop it up -- as he does on his own composition "Love Is the Answer" and "Do What You Gotta Do" -- and stroke it smooth and mellow as on the title track, the truly sublime "Be Yourself", and Thad Jones' "A Child Is Born". This is Burrell at his level best as a player to be sure, but also as a composer and as a bandleader. Magnificent.
Review: The Ear July issue by Jason Kennedy 2015
"Burrell’s heyday was in the fifties and sixties when he played with John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Jimmy Smith and Oscar Peterson among many others, but his only release for CTI proved that he still had it in 1971. That it is two things, tone and groove, yet what strikes you with the opener ‘Be Yourself’ is his understatement. Rarely has an album’s first track seemed more at odds with the cover art, there is no hint of shock or awe, just sublime playing over subtle backing. Among others the band features bassist Ron Carter, Freddie Hubbard’s trumpet, Billy Cobham in unusually restrained form on drums and Hubert Laws’ flute, so a classy line-up. Orchestration is arranged by Don Sebesky who does a fine job of enhancing results with nuance rather than broad strokes, a statement that effectively sums up the album as a whole.
Its most intense moments are on ‘Love Is The Answer’ where Burrell ratchets up the groove to excellent effect. The all star backing is good but never as good as the lead, a fact made clear by the title track which is a mellow peach with just enough edge, it’s immaculate but not stoned. As ever Pure Pleasure has done an excellent job of the mastering and pressing of this album, one that does full justice to Rudy van Gelder's original recording as well as the artistry of the musicians at work. JK
hi-fi+ Dennis Davis August 2015
If record collectors had their way, jazz artists from the classic mid-century period would be encased in amber with only their recordings from the 1950s and early 1960s left to survive. Under such a regime, such would be the fate of guitarist Kenny Burrell. Yet he continues to thrive as a creative artist into the current century. He recorded numerous outstanding LPs in the 1870s, the earliest of which is this 1971 cut on CTI. With a band that included Ron Carter, Freddie Hubbard , and Billy Cobham, Burrell turns in one of his greatest hits as a triple threat –leader. Player and composer.
This CTI recording included a string section, but here Burrell, and not the string section, is in charge. Everybody from Charlie Parker to Billie Holiday wanted to record with the string section, but few have made it work with the subtlety employed here by Burrell who works the strings as part of an orchestral whole, rather than imposing them as a disembodied prop. This is music of the 70s in many ways; it is at once fusion, yet not in the usual sense. It’s classical groove music that transcends the fusion sound that dominated that period’s sound.
Personnel:"God Bless The Child" - Kenny Burrell (g); Freddie Hubbard (tp); Hubert Laws (fl); Hugh Lawson, Richard Wyands (p); Ron Carter (b); Billie Cobham (dr); Ray Barretto, Airto Moreira (perc); a.o.
Recording: April & May 1971 at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, USA
Production: Creed Taylor
Side A: 1. Be Yourself 2. Love is The Answer 3. Do What You Gotta Do
Side B: 1. A Child Is Born 2. God Bless The Child