Art of Life recently reissued Canadian ex-pat Lenny Breau's last album before his untimely death in '84, Swingin' on a Seven-String
, bringing the special relationship that Breau shared with Nashville pedal steel legend Buddy Emmons to the fore again. Breau, a guitarist who may not have reached the public acclaim he deserved, had a remarkable ability to self-accompany in a way that made him sound like two and sometimes three players at once, and he influenced a wide range of guitarists both then and to this day. His relationship with Emmons went back to the late '70s, when they recorded their first collaboration, Minors Aloud
. With Art of Life's remastered reissue of that first meeting, it's now possible to hear how their relationship began and how it ultimately evolved.
It's no surprise that Breau would find so much in common with a player more associated with country music. He was raised on country, and while he would ultimately forge an approach combining those roots with flamenco and a purer jazz aesthetic, he got his professional start at the age of twelve as part of his parents' travelling band, copping Chet Atkins and Merle Travis instrumentals with frightening accuracy. Even when he emerged as a more "serious jazz player in the late '60s, he retained an allegiance to his upbringing, delivering a staggering solo version of Jerry Reed's "The Claw on his second album, a live classic, The Velvet Touch of Lenny Breau (One Way, 1969).
Emmons was aligned with the country scene in Nashville, but he had stretched the limits of his instrument and had some serious jazz chops of his own. So when he was approached in '78 with the idea of doing an album with Breau, he jumped at the chance. The only conditions were that Breau be the featured artist, with Emmons listed as a guest, and for Breau to choose and arrange the material. When Breau arrived for the session, however, he came completely unpreparednot out-of-character for an artist who, while capable of pristine clarity on his instrument, struggled for most of his adult life with various substance abuse problems and was often less than predictable.
The result is that material for Minors Aloud was literally selected and worked out the night before the session, lending it an impromptu energy that probably made it better than a more pre-planned date would have been. We'll never know the answer to that, but based on the performances and the clear simpatico between Breau, Emmons, and the rhythm section, there's no indication that anyone was less than ready when the tape rolled.
The programme covers a lot of territoryCharlie Parker and Benny Golson standards, a couple of quickly pieced-together Breau originals, a country tune, and an R&B songand it demonstrates players at the kind of advanced level where jumping in without a safety net is not only a way to go, it's the way to go. In his liner notes, Emmons says, "I wouldn't have it any other way, and neither should we.
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Personnel: Lenny Breau: electric guitar, vocals; Buddy Emmons: pedal steel guitar, vocals; Charles
Dungey: acoustic bass; Randy Goodrum: keyboards; Kenny Malone: drums.