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January/February 2009

Paul Bollenback/John Hart
Dueling Guitars1

Turns out Dueling Guitars1 has nothing to with oneupsmanship and everything to do with simpatico.

Small wonder, then, that during this series of guitar duets, recorded live in a cozy setting, a member of the audience asks Paul Bollenback and John Hart to explain why it is that their collaborations sound so conversational. That’s the goal, the plectrists acknowledge in so many words, before picking up where they left off, seamlessly trading roles as soloist and accompanist, creating harmonized lines and nimble counterpoint, freshening pop standards and recasting original compositions, all accomplished with great finesse.

The guitarists first met while attending the University of Miami in the ’70s, but because their careers as sidemen and bandleaders have since taken parallel paths, this happy convergence is particularly welcome. Thanks to a high def, Dolby Digital 5.1 production that employs split screen graphics and other techniques that help isolate the fretwork, it’s easy to see what each guitarist contributes as the duo moves with apparent effortlessness through a set list that includes delightfully woven arrangements of “Alone Together,” “From This Moment On,” Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and Thelonious Monk’s “I Mean You.” (Aspiring guitarists interested in picking up a few licks will appreciate the left- and right-hand close-ups.)

The familiar tunes are diverse enough to allow Bollenback and Hart to display numerous shared affinities, whether the mood calls for tender lyricism, Latin jazz rhythms or percolating funk. The pieces composed by the guitarists are also enjoyable, especially Bollenback’s evocative “Reflections of Jaco,” which finds Hart soulfully playing an amplified acoustic guitar instead of his archtop.

The 40 minutes of bonus features include interviews with both musicians, who briefly discuss their influences and numerous associations, plus a sparkling, acoustic guitar rendering of “You Must Believe in Spring.”

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