Joey Baron: Down Home

Herb Ellis just about wrote the book on swinging blues-based jazz guitar. And while he’s chalked up a few miles since the ’50s, when he made his mark with the Oscar Peterson Trio, he plays like a seasoned engine that still purrs smoothly. On this set of ten originals recorded in 1991, the “Justice All-stars” (pianist Stefan Karlsson, drummer Sebastian Whittaker, bassist David Craig, and trumpeter Rebecca Franks, who guests on selected tracks) provide unobtrusive support and give him his head throughout.

Although most of the material is fairly laid back, Herb occasionally catches fire, as on “Conversations,” a rousingly riffing 12-bar blues. His fretwork is always fluent and displays the combination of precision, consistency, and spontaneity that makes him one of the finest players to ever wield the instrument. While anything less from Ellis would be a real surprise and certainly out of character, it’s newcomer Franks who provides an extra bonus by proving herself to be a swinging, traditional-minded soloist on tunes like “Sunflower” (a gently grooving ballad) and “Sunrise” (reminiscent of “One Note Samba”). Great work from one of the guitar’s very best.

-Jim Ferguson