Jimmy Bruno and Joe Beck: Polarity

AAJ Staff By

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What we have here is a superb, unique, and highly listenable two-guitar album. But- don't be fooled- it is not what one might think- it is not a "duel of the guitars." Rather, it is a genuine collaborative effort in which one guitarist complements the other to produce a beautiful and integrated sense of musical ensemble capitalizing on the "polarity" of Bruno's virtuosic theme and variations combined with Beck's rhythms, chordal accompaniments, and riffs on his self-developed "alto guitar," an instrument which can provide a bass ostinato along with chords and melodic twists, each in a distinctly different register, creating a sense of a whole rhythm section. The way these guys groove together, intimately and as one, is more striking and to the point than the "polarity" which separates one from the other.

Consisting primarily of ballads punctuated by bossa novas and up-tempo numbers, this CD can be listened to on several levels. It can be enjoyed as relaxing background music, with a smokey "wee small hours" sound, yet a set of timbres not quite like any you've ever heard on guitar or any other instrument, thanks to Beck's masterful use of the alto guitar, spreading his sound out across the spectrum in contrast with Bruno's sharp yet lyrical delineation and elaborations of the melodic lines.

Or, it can be heard as an adventure in interpretation of a tasteful selection of standards and original compositions. Most striking for this listener, is Beck's solo track, "Tenderly," where, in the tradition of the late beboppers, he quickly leaves the melody behind to create a marvelous meditation all his own.

Or, it can be focused in on as a study in Bruno's unexcelled virtuosity. Ever since hearing Jimmy a few years ago in Philadelphia, I have thought of him as the Paganini of the jazz guitar. He can do the impossible on this instrument. Sometimes I swear that, when he does runs, the notes that come after other notes seem to come before the notes they come after!! I decided that must be because Bruno's fingers play faster than most of our nervous systems think! But, to Jimmy's credit and attesting to the master's willingness to always learn and grow, he achieves in this CD a lyricism and subtlty of performance he has not shown until now. I don't know how Jimmy will react to this, but at times, I thought for a moment it was Wes Montgomery, not Bruno, who was playing on some of these tracks. And Bruno's rendition of the beautiful tune, "Estate," is an especially moving interpretation of what has become a guitar standard ever since Jao Gilberto performed it in the sixties.

And that is another level from which this album can be approached- a recapitulation of moments of jazz guitar from the greats- whether Montgomery, Gilberto, Herb Ellis, Tal Farlow, or even Django Rhinehart. I don't know if this historical aspect was intended or whether it is simply a result of Bruno's and Beck's total immersion in the guitar. [See the interviews for comments from Jimmy and Joe.]

I had the pleasure and honor of meeting Bruno and Beck as they conversed with All About Jazz publisher, Michael Ricci, at the CD release party and performance at JJ's Grotto in Philadelphia, where Jimmy has performed at various times for a number of years. They obviously enjoy considerable rapport with each other and everyone around them, and they exude a contagious enthusiasm for just about everything, not the least of which is the potentiality of the worldwide web for musicians to share ideas. Both are such fantastic musicians together and as individuals that they are going to have trouble deciding whether to tour the country and make follow-up CD's as a duo, or each pursue his own development. Either way, we look forward to their continuing efforts.

For further discussion, read the AAJ interview with Jimmy Bruno and Joe Beck conducted byVic Schermer


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