The word "genius" is used far too much, but Guitar Genius is an apposite term for a performance by Tal Farlow, and its use is fully justified with regards to this two-disc set.
Farlow was apparently blessed with unusually large hands, which on a practical level enabled him literally to reach places that were beyond a lot of other guitarists. But this would have counted for nothing if he had not allied such an attribute with equally exceptional harmonic and rhythmic sensibilities. The effect of this as a package is to make his music a profound and moving experience, even for those with little interest in jazz guitar as such.
On the earliest sides collected here, recorded in Chicago in October of 1950 and Los Angeles in April of the following year (while Farlow was a member of a Red Norvo Trio that also included Charles Mingus), Farlow perhaps unsurprisingly betrays his debt to Charlie Christian. That said, on "Swedish Pastry he shows just how far he was outgrowing his influences, even at this early stage in his career, while on Denzel Best's "Move, his lines are those of the most fleet-fingered bopper.
The trio with pianist Claude Williamson and bassist Red Mitchell is arguably the best showcase of Farlow's talents here. As a group the trio is beautifully integrated, best exemplified by "This Is Always, where Farlow proves himself to be a lyrical player whose work is all the more enjoyable because of its avoidance of the mawkish. The same goes for "These Foolish Things, where his harmonic awareness makes its presence felt by stealth, as opposed to any more obvious means.
The undervalued Bob Gordon turns up on a session recorded in May of 1955, and it's always a pleasure to hear his baritone sax work, especially as he died tragically young. The fact that he forces the beat more than Farlow does on "Walkin' makes for an effective contrast and satisfying listening. On "Out Of Nowhere Farlow single-handedly keeps at bay the kind of torpor rightly or wrongly associated with the archetypal West Coast sound by dint of rhythmic displacement.
In a sense Farlow transcended the notion of jazz guitar, and his work here and elsewhere is ample evidence of that achievement.
CD1: I Like To Recognise The Tune; Strike Up The Band; Autumn In New York; And She Remembers Me; Little Girl Blue; Have You Met Miss Jones?; Tal
Tal Farlow: Guitar; Gerald Wiggins: Piano; Ray Brown: Bass; Chico Hamilton: Drums (CD1,
1-8) TF, Claude Williamson: Piano; Red Mitchell: Bass; Stan Levey: Drums (CD1, 9-18) TF,
Williamson, Mitchell (CD2, 1-4) TF, Bob Enevoldsen: Valve-Trombone; Bill Perkins: Tenor Sax;
Bob Gordon: Baritone Sax; Monty Budwig: Bass; Lawrence Marable: Drums (CD2, 5-11) TF,
Red Norvo: Vibes; Charles Mingus: Bass (CD2, 12-17).
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