Clouded Crystal Ball Dept.: In the original 1959 liner notes for the Kenny Burrell reissue reviewed below, the writer bemoans the declining use of the guitar. Perhaps he was on target for that era, but today this is the most played, most purchased of all musical instruments, and any bunch of jazz records received for review will illustrate the wide range of uses made of the guitar in every area of jazz, as the following examples make clear:
"THE LIVING ROOM TAPES." Lenny Breau & Brad Terry. Living Room Records, Box 23251, Austin, Tex. 78735. The mystery of who killed Lenny Breau remains unsolved (he was found two years ago in a Hollywood swimming pool in what was ruled an apparent homicide), but the legacy of his work is revived in this collection of tapes made at the farmhouse home of a clarinetist friend.
Breau was a maverick, an eminence grise who developed a technique strictly his own, with overtones of country & Western in his blues (listen to "The Claw"). These tapes are casual, even sloppy, made for the musicians' own pleasure, and Terry's clarinet is merely pleasant, yet the album is a valuable relic of a career cut short when Breau was 43. 4 stars.
"THE TOUCH." Jimmy Stewart. Black Hawk 50301-1. No two cuts have the same instrumentation or musical direction. Stewart, a studio guitarist and teacher, covers enough territory to give us, in effect, impressions of Jim Hall, Jimmy Raney, Earl Klugh, et al. A chief aide is David Benoit, whose synthesizer sounds like a church organ on "Dreams." "Jim's Tune," the one unhyphenated jazz track, has Don Menza's tenor sax in a Stan Getz bag. Stewart is a capable all-around plectrist. 3 stars.
"STOMP JUMPER." Ron Eschete. Bainbridge 6264. A guitarist from Louisiana via Orange County, Eschete offers a potpourri of sounds, some pleasantly low-key, others offering a touch of Bo Diddley, a shuffle blues, a quasi-samba. David Benoit is on hand again here. One good acoustic-guitar ballad, "The Trouble With Hello is Goodbye." 3 stars.
"ON VIEW AT THE FIVE SPOT CAFE." Kenny Burrell/Art Blakey. Blue Note 84021. Burrell swung as unyieldingly 27 years ago as today. This New York tape from a long-gone club brings long workouts on "Birks' Works," "Hallelujah," "Lady Be Good" and "Lover Man" and, finally, a short, biting blues called "36-23-36" that is down home, down South, just plain down. Backing the guitarist are Blakey, who solos at length on one cut; an adequate tenor sax man named Tina Brooks, Ben Tucker on bass and Bobby Timmons alternating with Roland Hanna at the out-of-tune piano. 3 1/2 stars.
"BYRD & BRASS." Charlie Byrd & The Annapolis Brass Quintet. Concord Jazz 304. A fine musician with impeccable credits, Byrd never was the world's swingingest. Here, his acoustic guitar is teamed with a brass unit that normally plays chamber music. The unamplified Byrd sounds too often are lifeless, despite valiant attempts to enliven things via the arrangers (mainly Tommy Newsom, whose reworking of "Frankie and Johnny" as "Franz und Johann" in jazz waltz guise is good fun). 2 1/2 stars.
"MUSIC OF BILL EVANS." Kronos Quartet. Landmark 1510. The guitarist Jim Hall is one reason for the fortunate outcome of this follow-up to the string quartet's unique album of Thelonious Monk tunes. Hall is heard on "Walking Up," "Turn Out the Stars" (partially a guitar improvisation) and Evans' rhythmically convoluted "Five."
Other reasons why the concept works: Tom Darters' intelligent scoring of Evans' enlightened compositions; lead violinist David Harrington's interpretation of several Evans piano solos and, by no means least, the presence on "Waltz for Debby," "Very Early" and "Nardis" of the phenomenal bassist Eddie Gomez, who spent 11 years with the Evans trio.
Orrin Keepnews, whose company this is and who wrote the informative notes, can take pride in another flawless production. 5 stars.
"LONG LIVE THE CHIEF." Count Basie Orchestra. Denon 33CY1018. The guitar is heard only subliminally here, but what would the Basie band be without Freddie Green?
This is the orchestra's first full album since Basie's death in 1984. Recorded June 24 of this year, it has two advantages: digital sound, which brings the band to you as nearly live as is possible in a normal-sized living room, and the fact that, being on a compact disc, it contains 13 tunes and more than 63 1/2 minutes of age-proof music.
Eight of the numbers are new ("Bus Dust" by the drummer Dennis Mackrel, "Hey I See You Over There" by the trombonist Dennis Wilson), or old but unfamiliar ("4-5-6" and "Misunderstood Blues" by the band's present leader, Frank Foster).
The writing, consistently skillful, leaves space for just about everyone to solo, from the pianist Tee Carson to the tenor saxes of Foster, Kenny Hing and Eric Dixon. Lynn Seaton, on bass, does a one-upmanship job on Slam Stewart by scatting instead of humming along with his solo in "Good Time Blues."