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In the liner notes to this piano-guitar duo album, Shelly Berg notes that there "often exists a love/hate relationship between the guitarist and pianist in a jazz band, with each jockeying for supremacy in creating chords and accompaniment." Upon reflection, I would have to say that this may be a reality on some occasions, but when two like-minded musicians pull off an album like this one, the results can be quite the opposite. Considering the collaborative efforts of Bill Evans and Jim Hall circa 1960, or Oscar Peterson and Joe Pass in the 1970s, the pairing of pianist Shelly Berg and guitarist Frank Potenza is not that far behind.
Both artists are jazz educators in California as well as friends, and both are underappreciated by the general public. Potenza, a protege of Joe Pass, spent the latter part of the '90s with the Gene Harris Quartet and participated in Harris' final recording. He played on several albums on the TBA label during the 1980s. Berg, the son of trumpeter Jay Berg, also has appeared on several albums, including his own critically praised Will: A Tribute to Oscar Peterson (1997), with no less help than Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen.
First Takes opens with Potenza taking a bright tempo on the Brodzky/Cahn tune "Wonder Why" and Berg feeding him perfectly. There's a give and take to this duo that underscores the liners' commentary about their mutual admiration. When Berg plays the Fats Waller piece "Jitterbug Waltz," it is his turn to show off his ease with stride piano. The album continues with similar examples, including a revisitation of "Driftin'" (from Herbie Hancock's debut album, Takin' Off); "Tristeza," from first wave bossa nova; and Michel Legrand's "You Must Believe In Spring."
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.