July 1, 2003

The George Barnes Quartet
Don’t Get Around Much Anymore
Duke Robillard and Herb Ellis
More Conversations in Swing Guitar
Recorded live in July 1977, Don’t Get Around Much Anymore [Acoustic Disc] is the final recording George Barnes made before he died three months later, at age 56. This previously unreleased, 55-minute set confirms that Barnes—who in the ’30s was playing single-note lines on electric guitar before Charlie Christian burst on the scene—was at the top of his game when he passed away. It also celebrates Barnes’ awesome technique, fertile imagination, and crisp archtop tones. Throughout the show, his playing is relaxed, yet supremely focused, and even at breakneck tempos, he gives every note its full due. Each of the 15 tunes cooks, and Barnes’ exuberant spirit and humorous patter remind us that once upon a time, jazz guitarists actually had fun onstage.

On this outing, Barnes is backed by a suave and swinging trio composed of guitarist Duncan James (a chord-comping master who also turns in impressive solos) and the dynamic, joined-at-the-hip rhythm section of bassist Dean Reilly and drummer Benny Barth. But it’s Barnes’ fluid improvisations that steal the show. When he stretches out on such swing classics as “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” and “Sweet Georgia Brown,” Barnes zaps us back to the ’30s—a time when jazz guitar had closer ties to the blues than it does today.

For example, unlike modern bebop pickers, Barnes really likes to bend notes. Virtually every tune on the album contains sultry, half-step bends, which Barnes often prolongs by pausing at their apex before slowly dropping back to pitch. He also uses lots of quivering vibrato, which he likely developed in his teens while backing Big Bill Broonzy and other bluesmen in the studio. (When you peer at photos of Barnes’ Acousti-Lectric Guild in the CD booklet, you may wonder how he managed to fret—let alone bend or wiggle— such massive flatwounds.)

Many tunes (including a hip take on the Flintstones theme) feature rich, two-part guitar harmony. With flawless timing and intonation, Barnes and Duncan find common ground between the twin fiddles of Texas swing and the smoky horns of Count Basie’s big band. As a teenager, Barnes crossed paths with guitarist Lonnie Johnson, who taught him to play blues, but it was horn players—notably Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, and Johnny Hodges—that inspired Barnes the most. You can hear this in his phrasing, which has all the ghost notes, swooping interval jumps, and melodic turns of a fine trumpet or sax solo. If you love hot, flat-picked guitar, you’ll savor Don’t Get Around Much Anymore for years.

Born in 1921—the same year as Barnes—Herb Ellis is one of the last living links to the dawn of jazz guitar. Like Barnes, who in the ’60s recorded and toured with 6-string legend Carl Kress, Ellis devoted a chunk of his career to making music with fellow guitarists, including Joe Pass, Charlie Byrd, and Barney Kessel. This theme recurred in 1999, when blues and swing champ Duke Robillard brought Ellis into the studio to record the relaxed and melodic Conversations in Swing Guitar. Backed by acoustic rhythm guitar, drums, and upright bass, the two archtop-wielding pickers spun chorus after chorus of sassy lines, jivey double-stops, and plunky riffs—all played with a mellow, woody tone. It was hipster blues at its finest. (You’ll find a review in the April 2000 GP.)

It turns out that Robillard and Ellis—who, at age 78, was still roaming the fretboard with stunning precision and unerring groove— tracked enough music in those original sessions to produce a follow-up release, the daringly titled More Conversations in Swing Guitar [Stony Plain]. Like its predecessor, this album is evenly divided between originals and such jump classics as “Moten Swing.” When Robillard and Ellis slide into the slow “Blues for Terry,” they each serve up licks that are as fat and greasy as a plate of Kansas City barbecue ribs. (Even the acoustic rhythm guitarist, Terry Holmes, joins in with some barely audible, but swinging lines.) Not merely a collection of outtakes, More Conversations continues the Robillard-Ellis musical dialog, and makes a worthy companion to its critically acclaimed precursor. Taken together, these discs form an encyclopedia of essential jump blues and swing phrases. - Andy Ellis

Various Artists
Mullets Rock!

If ever there was a haircut designed by committee, it’s the two-tiered plumage known as the mullet. With its business-in-the-front, party-in-the-back ethos, it not only made sense on the drawing board, it has enjoyed huge popularity among hard-rocking dudes who like “Takin’ Care of Business” during the work day, as well as hearing “Living after Midnight” later-on at their local nightspot. But, visually speaking, like the camel before it, the mullet has proved once again that function and form are usually in conflict, and the hairstyle has become a cultural laughing stock of sorts. The, ahem, long and short of the matter, however, is that some of the most rockin’ anthems ever recorded were performed by guys sporting these beaver paddles, and this two-CD collection celebrates that fact in grand fashion.

Granted, its arrival is a bit late, as mullet mania (and mullet bashing) peaked a couple of years ago. And, let’s face it—Mullets Rock! is a gimmicky way of reselling tracks that already pepper the record collections of classic rock lovers. But what a spectacular jukebox-load of rock and roll treasure it is! In addition to the above-referenced Bachman Turner Overdrive and Judas Priest songs, Mullets Rock! features offerings from 33 other legends of the shorty-longback that will keep the mudflaps swinging late into the night. The set includes songs by Rick Derringer, Foghat, Journey, Toto, Kansas, Deep Purple, Blue Oyster Cult, and Meat Loaf, as well as some blues thunder from George Thorogood and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and the funkiest prog-rock instrumental of all time, Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein.” Hearing all of these rockin’ tunes one after the other will likely warm your heart—even if you no longer wear a haircut that warms the back of your neck. Epic/Legacy. —Jude Gold

Tuck & Patti
Chocolate Moment

When it comes to emulating a jazz quartet with just six strings, two hands, and a volume pedal, Tuck Andress is in a class by himself. He can juggle swinging bass lines, percussive clusters, funky gospel riffs, baroque counterpoint, and serpentine melodies with ease. For 20 years, Andress has been providing solo-guitar accompaniment for Patti Cathcart—vocalist extraordinaire and a self-confessed musical tyrant—and, in the process, he has polished his fingerstyle technique to an improbable level of brilliance. On Chocolate Moment, Andress sounds more relaxed than ever, and his complex orchestral parts benefit from the laid-back vibe. The tones he draws from his ’53 Gibson L-5 archtop (which is tricked out with active electronics, run through outboard EQ for more top-end boost, and recorded direct to hard disk) are as delicate and transparent as Waterford crystal. Whether you’d describe these sounds as awesomely full-spectrum or brutally clinical is a matter of debate, but his harmonic wizardry is not. T& Records. —Andy Ellis

David Gilmore

David Gilmore’s dynamic and rhythmically sophisticated playing has graced recordings and performances by luminaries such as Wayne Shorter, Steve Coleman, Don Byron, Trilok Gurtu, Christian McBride, and Cassandra Wilson. On the self-produced Ritualism, Gilmore steps into the spotlight with his own band of stellar sidemen and delivers a remarkably mature debut, full of heavily syncopated and harmonically rich modern bop, with touches of African and other international influences. The core group—acoustic bassist Brad Jones, drummer Rodney Holmes, and keyboardist George Colligan—is augmented at various points by equally accomplished artists, including saxophonists Ravi Coltrane and David Binney, and trumpet maestro Ralph Alessi. Sharrif Simmons adds a “spoken word” part to one piece, and I mani Uzuri sings on another.

All of the compositions were written and arranged by Gilmore, except for a smoking cover of Monk’s “Off Minor.” Most of the songs on Ritualism are rooted in odd time signatures, but they are performed with such finesse and fluidity that the groove remains strong and even swinging throughout. Gilmore’s tone is sweet, warm, and round—and his ultra-clean picking enables every subtle nuance of his playing to come across clearly, even when the notes are flying by at astonishing speed. Gilmore burns at some points, but never gratuitously, and always with exquisite taste. Given the smoothing trend so annoyingly prevalent in contemporary “jazz,” Ritualism serves as a vivid reminder of just how intelligent and engaging the music can be. Kashka Music. —Barry Cleveland


David “Fuze” Fiuczynski /Rufus Cappaducia, Kif. With the epic vibe of Peter Gabriel’s Middle Eastern-flavored masterpiece, Passion, and the raw adrenaline of an early Red Hot Chili Peppers record, Fiuczynski’s new collection of sonic adventures should please headbangers and ethnomusicologists alike. Dig Fuze, armed like a warrior of the avant-garde with standard, fretless, and quarter-tone guitars, adventuring across the soundscapes with Cappaducia’s five-string cello as his muse! Fuzelicious Morsels. —JG

Russell Crowe &30 Odd Foot of Grunts, Other Ways of Speaking. Go ahead. Be jealous that Crowe is a famous actor who gets more ink in magazines and tabloids than you’ll ever see. But this is actually a pretty rockin’ piece of work if you’re into Dave Matthews, Hootie, and other adult-contemporary types. And, hey, Chrissie Hynde is in the house! Artemis. —MM

Peter Green Splinter Group, Reaching the Cold 100. There are definitely some high moments here, but Green’s still-evident brilliance is often diluted by the somewhat pedestrian contributions of his backing band. Also, titling the CD after a Robert Johnson lyric only reminds one of Green’s outstanding ’98 release, The Robert Johnson Songbook, which doesn’t help. An extended version of Reaching the Cold 100 contains revised takes on Green classics—“Black Magic Woman,” “Green Manalishi,” and “Albatross”—along with a convincing cover of Otis Rush’s “It Takes Time.” Eagle. —BC

The Fleshtones, Do You Swing? Playing garage rock in the mid-’70s was not particularly cool, but the Fleshtones persevered. Well, guess who’s laughing now! Do You Swing? is the sound of a band that knows how to do primitive exactly right. Yep Roc. —DF

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