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Larry Carlton/Steve Lukather: No Substitutions: Live in Osaka

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Recently launched by rock-guitar maven Steve Vai, the Favored Nations label specializes (for the moment, anyway) in progressive electric instrumental music and has already issued recordings by the likes of Frank Gambale, Eric Johnson, Stuart Hamm and Dweezil Zappa. On No Substitutions: Live In Osaka two guitar heavyweights-Larry Carlton and Steve Lukather-go mano a mano before a live audience in Osaka, Japan. Support is provided by drummer Gregg Bissonette, bassist Chris Kent, and keyboardist Rick Jackson.

A dream for fans of this type of music, the album sports five extended tracks (mostly originals) and excellent production values that include state-of-the-art sound that pans Carlton to the left and Lukather to the right of the stereo image. As far as the playing goes, it’s frequently intense and over the top, but not without its relatively subtle moments. Throughout, each player gets plenty of solo space: check out the driving work on “Don’t Give It Up,” which commences with audience-inciting feedback, gets its initial juice from Carlton’s playing on the head, and then moves on to intense solos by both leaders and rollicking contributions by Jackson and Bissonette. Other highlights include the trades and tandem playing on “The Pump,” the subdued yet still virtuosic melodic work on “(It Was) Only Yesterday,” and the hip arrangement of “All Blues” with its harmonized head, Lukather’s expansive virtuosic solo and Carlton’s tasty chord and single-note work that comes right around the tune’s half-way point.

If you take your guitar playing scorching and screaming, look no further: this album is for you. And since this type of music has been mishandled before, here’s wishing good luck to Vai and hoping he’s as good a business man as he is a guitarist.