Following the reissue of Lenny Breau's Complete Living Room Tapes,
Art of Life Records has released another CD of historical import and musical excellence. Recorded in 1961, The Hallmark Sessions
are the heretofore unreleased first studio recordings of this guitarist who most capably fused classical, flamenco, and country finger picking with contemporary jazz. Seven of the thirteen unique cuts feature a trio consisting of 20-year-old Breau, 17-year-old bassist Rick Danko and 21-year-old drummer Levon Helm. The sound quality, aside from a few minor rough spots, is excellent and the six re-presented stereo versions of the trio pieces sparkle. Breau in a word is awesome and to think that his playing was this developed at such a young age is mind boggling.
The fast runs, the polyrhythms, his adeptness at accompanying himself while playing lead and his proficiency at slipping from country to jazz to flamenco and back are all here. Jazz trio pieces such as "It Could Happen To You," with its extended chordal opening and self accompaniment, or the delicately presented "My Old Flame," are evidence that Breau had already conceived, to a large degree, his singular approach to the jazz genre. "Oscar's Blues" and "D Minor Blues" also attest to his ability to artfully blend styles while maintaining a traditional form. Likewise, there are solo originals and covers that allow the listener to better understand how Breau grew into the powerfully transcendent artist that he became. "Lenny's Western Blues" and "Cannonball Rag" are country finger pickin' gems that complement three flamenco pieces, while "Brazilian Love Song" is an exciting version of "Batacuda" by guitarist Luiz Bonfa, who, like Breau, played melody, rhythm and bass all at the same time. The Hallmark Sessions
are the first piece of the Lenny Breau legacy.
This review originally appeared in AllAboutJazz-New York
Personnel: Lenny Breau - Acoustic and Electric Guitar;
Rick Danko - Bass;
Levon Helm - Drums.