My favorite jazz guitar record might be this relatively obscure LP, Guitar/Guitar (Columbia CS 9130, stereo) by Charlie Byrd and Herb Ellis. It isn’t flashy or fast. No fretboard fireworks. Just two pros, playing together and making great music. I can listen to this quite a bit and not tire of it.
Byrd is not my favorite guitarist. He and Ellis also played together with Barney Kessel on a few LPs on the Concord label in the 1970s. Those are nice, and having Kessel on board never hurts. Nevertheless, I think this LP is quite a bit better than those. It isn’t about endless soloing. It’s about melody and Guitar/Guitar has all you could ask for. The two men fit, as if they were playing together live for some time before making this record. I don’t know if that was the case, however.
Released in 1965, it’s possible it was multitracked, but if it was, it doesn’t matter. Most of the jazz musicians who came out of the bop era or just after, recorded live in the studio, as if they were on stage. That’s how this record sounds. It has the feeling of a 60s stereo recording, with the two guitarists panned hard left and right. I like that. If it were made today, both would probably panned dead center and the stereo feeling would feel like mono. Ugh.
While Ellis solos electrically, Byrd comps in the background with some nice chords on his acoustic guitar on St. Louis Blues. Not just the usual chords, read from a chart, but with some feeling for the song. It’s bright and lively, without the histrionics you might expect from more modern guitarists.
Byrd’s chordal approach to soloing stands out on Bluesette, and a number of other tunes. Ellis mostly plays single notes when he solos. The contrast between single and chordal, acoustic and electric contribute to the success of the music. The mixdown engineer must have loved that. Even if you buy the mono version of the LP, you’ll easily make out the difference between Ellis and Byrd.
Se Todos Fossem is in a similar vein. It almost doesn’t matter which song they’re playing, the empathetic relationship between the two men is what stands out on this record. Neither is out doing the other. There is space between some of the notes, space to breathe and hear what is being played. You can hear the song.
Ellis opens on his own, on Oh Lady Be Good. It’s another easy listener, without being elevator music. If you enjoy tasty guitar licks, this LP is full of them. Listening to the guy playing rhythm is worth your time, too.
The one tune in a real minor mode is Chung King. It’s a little faster paced and has an introspective feeling to it. Both guitarists are at their best here. The rhythm section, whoever they are, does a very nice job but does not stand out much. I didn’t need them to.
The tunes are short. You don’t need ’em to be longer. Virtually every song is worthwhile. The vinyl is warm, smooth and quite a nice listen. It isn’t the most dynamic recording ever made, however. It’s a little compressed sounding, particularly on drums. No one will use this LP to demonstrate their sub woofer. Don’t let that stop you. Very highly recommended, especially if you enjoy guitar jazz. The cover art is cool, too.
It’s finally available on CD, on Wounded Bird Records (WOU 9130), and also on Sony (A 748213). I haven’t heard either, don’t plan to.
Give a listen to a brief medley of tunes, direct from my stereo LP!