This is a not very challenging, but thoroughly charming, summit meeting between a blues guitar master and a jazz guitar legend. Taking four classic swing tunes ("Just Squeeze Me," "Avalon," "Stuffy," and, inevitably, "Flyin' Home"), two Robillard originals, and a jointly composed slow blues, and helped out by bassist Marty Ballou and drummer Marty Richards, Duke Robillard and Herb Ellis deliver a 48-minute swing guitar master class, Conversations in Swing Guitar. Ellis comes from jazz and Robillard from the blues, so their approaches are just distinct enough to keep things interesting; although both play with a clean, fat jazz tone and no one ever really hauls off and shreds, Robillard tends towards bent notes and funky chordal things while Ellis thinks a bit more in terms of long lines and florid ornamentation. Every so often you might find yourself wishing that the edges were just a bit rougher, but both of these guys are clearly having a great old time, and you will too.
This release contains the outstanding album The Midnight Roll (Epic Stereo BA17034), featuring two All-Star small group formations including Roy Eldridge or Dukes of Dixieland’s Frank Assunto on trumpet, Buddy Tate on tenor sax, Ray Bryant on piano, and on some tracks, the ill-fated bassist Israel Crosby, who is best know for his work with Ahmad Jamal Trio.
The title Three Guitars in Bossa Nova Time is misleading in that only two guitars in any instance play the material, while tenor saxophonist Bob Enevoldsen is more important to the overall sound of the music than any other performer. In the main, Herb Ellis and Laurindo Almeida take charge on most of the songs, certainly all bossa novas and light sambas, accompanied by the pianist Donn Trenner (who worked on television with Steve Allen), bassist Bob Bertaux, lesser-known percussionists Bob Neel or Chico Guerrero, the more famous Milt Holland, and guitarist Johnny Gray on three tracks in place of Almeida…
Herb Ellis, Tal Farlow and Charlie Byrd exemplify the breadth of American jazz. These elder statesmen of the instrument have well over a century of combined knowledge and experience, and their styles cover a vast spectrum of the music, from straight-ahead swing, to be-bop, to bossa nova and beyond. Herb Ellis established an impeccable standard for swinging, mainstream jazz guitar through his extensive work in concert and on record with numerous great jazz instrumentalists including Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Harry Edison and singer Ella Fitzgerald.
Guitarist Herb Ellis still considers this to be one of his personal favorite recordings. Ellis was reunited with his old boss Oscar Peterson and, with the assistance of Peterson's trio of the period (with bassist Sam Jones and drummer Bobby Durham), the two lead voices often romp on the jam session-flavored set. Most of the chord changes are fairly basic (including three blues and "Seven Come Eleven"), and Peterson was clearly inspired by Ellis' presence (and vice versa).
The second Great Guitars album features guitarists Charlie Byrd, Barney Kessel, and Herb Ellis matching wits and generally inspiring each other throughout this studio set. The trio, along with bassist Joe Byrd and drummer Wayne Philips, are heard together on four numbers (best are "Undecided" and Ellis' "H & B Guitar Boogie"; Ellis and Kessel duet on "Down Home Blues"; Byrd has two features to himself; and a medley combines together short versions of "Benny's Bugle & and "Latin Groove" with the typically exuberant "Charlie's Blues" A fine all-around effort.