Four Classic Guitar-Duo Albums

When two necks are better than one

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John Ambercrombie

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LARRY CORYELL/PHILIP CATHERINE
Twin-House (Elektra, 1977)

Classic fusion-era guitar wasn’t all shredding at high volume—a lot of it was acoustic, in fact. This steel-string duo covered Django Reinhardt and Keith Jarrett in fascinating ways, and the originals (several by Belgian guitarist Catherine, the opening “Ms. Julie” by Coryell) had a way of reconciling jazz modernism and white-hot chops with calmer folk-like moods and textures. There’s heavy improvisation, the twang of rock and blues and the allure of simple and lasting melodies.

JOHN ABERCROMBIE/RALPH TOWNER
Sargasso Sea (ECM, 1976)

Playing solely original material, this intimate duo was all about timbre: Towner’s nylon-string and percussive, expansive 12-string meeting Abercrombie’s mystical swells and legato runs on electric and steel-string acoustic. Despite the dark and ethereal bent, the music locks into tempo and swings (Abercrombie’s “Avenue,” Towner’s “Parasol”), and the writing is ambitious (Towner’s virtuosic “Staircase” stands out). Towner saves the final number for a compelling turn on piano, his first instrument.

JIMMY RANEY/DOUG RANEY
Duets (SteepleChase, 1979)

Jimmy Raney was 52 at the time of this recording with his talented son, then 22. No bells and whistles, just two bop-oriented pickers playing evergreens like “Have You Met Miss Jones?,” “Invitation” and “Oleo.” Comping, soloing, basslines, counterpoint: The Raneys show how it’s done, mining a classic electric hollowbody sound, warm and round with just a hint of bite. Raney père, of course, is the more seasoned storyteller and melodic wit.

JIM HALL/PAT METHENY
Jim Hall & Pat Metheny (Telarc, 1999)

On tunes like “Falling Grace” and “All the Things You Are,” Hall and Metheny play straight-up jazz duo in the Raney fashion. But they travel far and wide aesthetically on these 17 tracks (live and studio), with Metheny playing his acoustic guitars, Pikasso 42-string guitar and even fretless guitar. Amazingly, Hall says just as much with one instrument. He’s the more understated partner but is in no way overshadowed: His thick tone, swinging attack, compositional riches and free-improvising abilities elevate the music at every step.

Originally published in July/August 2013

1 Comment

  • Oct 01, 2013 at 06:10PM Tom Spitzer

    Herb Ellis/Joe Pass - Seven Come Eleven was the one that made it for me. Pure joy.

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