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Great Guitars: Herb Ellis, Howard Roberts, and Jimmy Raney

David Rickert By

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Verve's inaugural edition of the "Verve Originals series features a handful of long out-of- print guitar jazz classics. No more cardboard like the LPRs and VMEs; these are jewel cases, but features the same excellent reissues of both those series. Here's hoping Barry Galbraith's Guitar In the Wind comes out in the next batch.

Herb Ellis
Ellis In Wonderland
2006 (1956)

Herb Ellis first gained notoriety as a member of the Oscar Peterson trio and the inevitable recordings as a leader soon followed. Unfortuantely, not much of his early Verve work is in print, but Ellis n Wonderland is a fine example of his first efforts as a leader. He is joined by Peterson and Ray Brown from his current band as well as Alvin Stoller on drums, Harry "Sweets Edison on trumpet, and Jimmy Giuffre on various reeds. With a lineup like this it would be hard to create a bad record, and the group certainly doesn't disappoint.

Ellis plays it safe in the tune selection, sticking mostly to standards and the occasional blues, all taken at a cool tempo. But when you have a talented group like this, there's no need to be too adventurous. Ellis more than holds his own with heavyweights like Peterson and Edison; Giuffre is there to add color with whatever instrument is called for. On the latter half of the album the group is joined by Charlie Mariano for a more rounded out sound. Ellis still gets the majority of the solos, and an errant note is never struck. A great beginning for a great guitarist.

Howard Roberts
Good Pickin's
2006 (1959)

Howard Roberts was one of the busiest studio musicians in Hollywood in the fifties and sixties, so it's only natural that he only headed into the studio occasionally. However, when he did, the results were often terrific. His sixties records for Columbia, now readily available, were pleasant recordings of polished pop, but for the real burners you have to turn to his earlier work. Good Pickin's from 1959 is widely held to be his best, and it's good to have it back in print.

Joined by a quartet of West Coast regulars including Bill Holman, Pete Jolly, Marty Paich, and Red Mitchell, Roberts turns in a pristine performance. Befitting the compositional approach favored by the West Coasters, all the heads are arranged by either Holman or Marty Paich, turning each tune into a pastiche of counterpoint and interplay. Once the soloing begins, the heat turns up, especially on the blues "Relaxin' At Camarillo.

Roberts is more of a craftsman than a wailer, and the whole album features the restraint typical of the cool school (or people who spend much of their time in studio orchestras, I suppose). Nevertheless, those who favor this approach will eat this stuff up. And what a cover!

Jimmy Raney
Jimmy Raney Featuring Bob Brookmeyer
2006 (1956)

On the other coast at approximately the same time as Good Pickin', Jimmy Raney took a similar approach on this record with Bob Brookmeyer from 1956. Just as laid back and economical as Roberts' record, Jimmy Raney Featuring Bob Brookmeyer is another great effort. Raney and Brookmeyer empathize through their intertwining lines, no mean feat on two remarkably different instruments. Raney knew how to say a lot with a few notes, offering an effective contrast to Brookmeyer's fleet-fingered work on valve trombone. The two mine fresh ideas out of well-known tunes and originals, while the rhythm section provides the appropriate backing to support the flow of ideas. Jimmy Raney Featuring Bob Brookmeyer caps off a trio of excellent albums of guitar jazz from some of the lesser-known artists in the field.

Tracks and Personnel

Herb Ellis - Ellis in Wonderland

Tracks: Sweetheart Blues; Somebody Loves Me; It Could Happen To You; Pogo; Detour Ahead; Ellis In Wonderland; Have You Met Miss Jones?; A Simple Tune.

Personnel: Herb Ellis: guitar; Harry "Sweets Edison: trumpet; Charlie Mariano: alto sax; Jimmy Giuffre: tenor sax, baritone sax, clarinet; Oscar Peterson: piano; Ray Brown: bass; Alvin Stoller: drums.

Howard Roberts: Good Pickin'

Tracks: Will You Still Be Mine?; When The Sun Comes Out; All The Things You Are; Lover Man; Relaxin' At Camarillo; Godchild; Easy Living; Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea; The More I See You; Terpsichore.

Personnel: Howard Roberts: guitar; Bill Holman: tenor sax; Pete Jolly: piano; Stan Levey: drums; Red Mitchell: bass.

Jimmy Raney Featuring Bob Brookmeyer

Tracks: Isn't It Romantic?; How Long Has This Been Going On?; No Male for Me; The Flag Is Up; Get Off That Roof; Jim's Tune; Nobody Else But Me; Too Late Now.

Personnel: Jimmy Raney: guitar; Bob Brookmeyer: valve trombone; Hank Jones, Dick Katz: piano; Teddy Kotick: bass; Osie Johnson: drums.


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