Lenny Breau Trio,
Lenny Breau Trio
(1979; Adelphi/Genes, 1999)

Let me be up front with you -- I am a ham-handed guitar player. I play chords, I don't pick at all. I am an ignoramus when it comes to playing the instrument. At the same time, I am one of the most appreciative people alive of good guitar players, having grown up on the likes of Chet Atkins playing constantly in the house (thanks, Dad!), and I collect guitar records. I love Atkins, Merle Travis, Les Paul, both the old and the new, and have heard a ton (literally) of guitar recordings over the years.

That said, I never heard the likes of Lenny Breau before. Breau passed on some years back, but his recordings survive, and the Adelphi/Genes label has released this brief (35:00) session from 1979 on CD. The recordings were made direct-to-disc, so what you hear was being created live, with no overdubs or recording tricks. If you appreciate guitar, your jaw will drop open. If you are a guitarist, your jaw will be clattering against the floor. Be careful not to step on it.

Chet Atkins served as Breau's mentor, in a way, so it's only fitting that the album begins with a duet between the two men. "You Needed Me" is guitar heaven, with the two gods trading licks, each weaving his own lines around and through the other's. Each man was a master of harmonics, and they ring out like angel chimes here. You can't help but smile when you hear, near the end, a transition into a "countrified" riff and rhythm that's been a part of Chet's music for years.

From this point on, Breau is on his own guitar-wise, but is backed up by the tasty and tasteful Don Thompson on bass and Claude Ranger on drums, for a classic jazz guitar trio sound. Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" is the unlikely first choice. The drums set a sweet rhythm and the bass lays down a solid foundation for Breau's amazing constructions of jazz lines that never cease to be inspired and imaginative. Strings of sixteenth notes roll magically from the strings, proving Breau's expertise at single line work as well as multi-voices. There's a phenomenal bass solo on this track as well as the next one, John Coltrane's "Mister Night." On this tune, Breau ladles out traces of everything from "How High the Moon" to classic rock riffs, which drummer Ranger takes to percussive heights.

A Breau original, "Neptune," is next, consisting of what sounds like variations on "On Green Dolphin Street." "The Shadow of Your Smile" is in line for the same treatment in Breau's "Claude (Free Song)." Throughout these numbers you'll have to keep reminding yourself that there's only one guitarist at work here. Breau was legion in his voicings and lines, but the music never falls into a dependence on chops alone. There is a wonderful musical mind at work here, and not just fingers.

If you're a guitar junkie, this is a must have. It's a fairly short disc, but you'll be listening to it so many times that you'll more than get your money's worth. The first duet track alone would have been worth it to me. How many times do you get to hear two absolute geniuses doing what they want to do as only they can do it? Since Lenny Breau is no more, we have to take what we can get and be grateful for it. And this one's a gift from the gods.

[ by Chet Williamson ]

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