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Jazz Reviews : Guitar Duo Prefers the Safe Route

August 23, 1995|ZAN STEWART

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — When Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour played the Coach House on Monday, they acted like perfect gentlemen. Nuts.

The guitarists' first set was a solid, 11-tune collection of instrumental jazz; several selections were drawn from the recent "Larry & Lee" album (on GRP). Both men soloed with flair, but they didn't let spontaneity play a major role in the festivities.

Here were two top contemporary jazz musicians on stage together--an ideal opportunity to play off each other by trading improvised phrases. Such time-honored, chance-taking interplay might have generated considerable excitement.

But except during the slow-groove "Low Steppin' " and the more boisterous "Crosstown Kids," it didn't happen. Instead, one soloed, then the other soloed. There were plenty of fine moments in these improvisations (Wes Montgomery's "Four on Six" was a high point), but with so little interplay, the evening was only enjoyable, not memorable.

"Low Steppin' " showcased the guitarists' diverse approaches to soloing. Over an insistent and compelling beat provided by Rick Jackson on keyboards, Melvin Davis on bass and Land Richards on drums, Carlton worked first, offering emotional statements with his characteristic steely, ringing sound. He paced his ideas, dropping in long, stretched notes followed by gritty blues and an occasional jazz-based burst.

Ritenour achieved a warm tone and played deliciously thick chordal passages and biting single-note lines. At times, though, his technique seemed to be in charge, rather than his ears and his heart.

As they began to trade eight- or four-bar statements, Carlton stayed slow and bluesy while Ritenour played faster in contrast--an exchange that made for provocative listening, as did the fiery "Four on Six," a mainstream jazz classic that was taken briskly. This time Ritenour shone, particularly as he delivered still more melodically rich chords. Carlton, not known as player who enjoys uptempos, issued a choice solo nevertheless, rhythmically energized and swinging.

*

Each played two songs along with the rhythm section. Ritenour scored again with a number that had a Montgomery feel, and with one of the Brazilian-based pieces of which he is fond. Carlton, as might be expected, started with a blues, playing notes as soft as whispers, then loud as screams, and closed with his hit "Smiles and Smile to Go."

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