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Artist’s Choice: Liberty Ellman on Masters of Guitar Balladry

Guitarist's favorites include Green, Montgomery, Pass and Frisell

Liberty Ellman, Guitar (photo by Alan Nahigian)
Liberty Ellman (photo by Alan Nahigian)
Grant Green: "Grantstand"
Grant Green's "Grantstand"

It has been said that the guitar is a mini-orchestra. To me, there is no better example of this idea than listening to a master guitarist play a ballad. Slower tempos leave room for lush interpretations, and allow the instrument to speak dynamically. For the player, ballads can strip away ego; a musician can express a celebration of beauty, melancholy, blues, serenity, stillness and joy. To do this well requires great virtuosity—a thorough control of time, sound and harmonic sophistication. In picking these tracks I decided to stay close to my longstanding favorites, the recordings I look to for nourishment, and where the players really do something personal.

Grant Green
“My Funny Valentine”

Grantstand (Blue Note, 1962)
Grant Green has a special place in my lexicon. It probably has something to do with my obsession with the Matador album, where he plays the most ridiculously swinging modal music with what is basically John Coltrane’s rhythm section. On this cut he plays a beautiful single-note version of this standard. It’s as if he’s singing to you.

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