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Great guitars, great jazz

Three outstanding guitarists play together in this unusual recording

Great Guitars
Concord Jazz
Music Gallery India Pvt Ltd,
House of Lords, No 8,
St Mark's Road,
Bangalore-560 001
Rs 600

Much of Concord's catalogue was drawn from the annual Concord Jazz Festivals at Concord, California. In this album recorded live at the festival in 1974, for the first time perhaps in jazz history three great guitarists came together, with a bassist (Joe Byrd) and a drummer (John Rae) providing able support as well as occasional but vital solos of their own.

Ellis, Kessel and Byrd had been standard-bearers for the guitar through the mild decline it suffered in the be-bop and hard bop years, when piano, bass and drums supporting one to three horns (chosen from tenor sax, trumpet and alto sax) were the standard small group line-up. Of the three, Byrd was well-known for his long association with Latin jazz, mostly bossa nova. Ellis and Kessel moved mostly through mainstream jazz, from swing to hard bop. Surprisingly, though, of the two Latin numbers here, while the somewhat leisurely and reflective O Barquinho is played by Byrd alone on guitar with drums and bass (the two Byrds sharing solos), the lively Latin groove is an unsupported duet by Ellis and Kessel on which Kessel solos while Ellis takes up a percussive role.

The rest of the album falls into mainstream jazz, largely swing but with the strong emphasis on solos that be-bop and hard bop infused into the old swing style. The uptempo Charlie's blues, the other number which Ellis and Kessel sit out, also features solos by both the Byrds. Ellis alone rests on Slow burn, a lively piece on which the two guitarists interweave their solos and everyone makes way for a drum solo by Rae. Just as lively is Topsy, an old swing-age classic on which one senses that the three guitarists have added further pep to the original number by their neatly dovetailing and distinctive solos taking turns.

Down home blues is another pure duet between Ellis and Kessel, this time dominated by Ellis with Kessel providing mostly a soft rhythm background. H & B boogie, again a pure Ellis-Kessel duet, is a light-hearted attempt by "two good guitar players to sound like one ordinary piano player", as Kessel says, modestly describing their recreation of the boogie-woogie piano style.

Two famous classics of swing jazz, Undecided and Benny's bugle, open and close the album in swinging style. The latter is a tribute to Benny Goodman's sextet and in particular its fleeting star Charlie Christian, the first great guitar soloist.


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