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Duke Robillard/Herb Ellis: More Conversations in Swing Guitar

Unlike some other genres, sheer speed and volume mean little for jazz guitarists, particularly since the finest players can say more in a couple of measures than many in other idioms can, even when they use wah-wah pedals, distortion or other sonic gimmicks. More Conversations in Swing Guitar (Stony Plain), the second pairing of masterful stylists Duke Robillard and Herb Ellis, consistently shows the way skilled improvisers can make understatement and restraint into assets. With bassist Marty Ballou and drummer Marty Richards providing relaxed, steady patterns, Robillard and Ellis effortlessly shift roles between lead and rhythm, solos and accompaniment. The toughest job belongs to rhythm guitarist Terry Holmes, whose own immaculate assistance nearly gets overshadowed as Robillard and Ellis operate around him. Their exchanges on songs like “Moten Swing,” “Blues for Terry” or “End of Session Jump” aren’t flashy or crammed with notes. Instead, they glide through these passages, working off each other without ever clashing. Robillard’s approach has a bit more blues edge and flair in some of his lines, while Ellis’ sound is smoother, a bit more elegant, but no less delightful. Whether doing contemplative material such as “Just You and Me” or turning a song like “Train to Texas” into more of a straight jam, the Robillard-Ellis duo delivers rich, magnificent riffs and phrases. This is a wonderful set that’s fully complementary, but it still displays each player’s individual skills and approach.

Originally Published