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Lenny Breau/Don Francks/Eon Henstridge: At the Purple Onion

Guitarist Lenny Breau went to heaven in 1984 at age 43 and left behind a bits-and-pieces discography added to every so often when tapes like At the Purple Onion (Art of Life) surface. This CD features the first concert ever performed by Three, a vocal-jazz-with-comedy trio led by actor/singer Don Francks that, when this was recorded in 1962, was part of Toronto’s hip coffeehouse scene. If you think Mark Murphy is idiosyncratic, try Francks’ nutso versions of “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top” and “Tea for Two” on for size, not to mention the trio’s originals, seemingly composed on the spot and filled with Francks’ stream-of-consciousness comedy routines that occasionally generate funny one-liners reminiscent of Bob Hope. Francks flew by the seat of his pants that night, as did bassist Eon Henstridge, special guest tap dancer and singer Joey Hollingsworth (who appears on three cuts) and Breau, whose comping hangs in the background on this less-than-even recording. But when Breau gets space to himself, he uses it like a Breau fan wants him to, adding his trademark liquid leads to “The Newspaper Song” and playing an extended solo during “Tea for Two” that serves as a summary of his style, with dazzling triplet waterfalls, chunk-a-chunk chord vamps and arpeggiations that suggest an extra few fingers on his right hand. After those breathtaking moments, it’s Francks-time again, for better or for worse. Serious Breau collectors and fans of wacky jazz theater (do any exist?) will invest wisely in this; those uninitiated in Breau’s artistry should turn to Art of Life’s previous The Hallmark Sessions.

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