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Chester & Lester [Bonus Tracks]

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2010

    Genius guitar innovators duet on pop standards

    Recorded in 1975, this LP (augmented here by four bonus track) found two innovators of electric guitar playing in easy-going sessions filled with friendly instrumental interplay. The elder of the two, Les Paul, had been effectively retired for a decade when Atkins lured him into the studio. The seeds had been planted a few months earlier when the guitarists met up in a New York hotel room for an informal jam session the music flowed so smoothly that it suggested a recording date was in order. ¶ The connection between Paul and Atkins happened many years before they met. Paul's jazz trio featured Atkins' half brother Jimmy as a vocalist and rhythm guitarist at the end of the 1930s, and as the younger Atkins followed his brother's work, he picked up the band leader's fingerings. Atkins' love of Merle Travis led him more towards country, but like Paul, he always kept a love of pop and jazz in his playing. Aktins even acquired one of Les Paul's guitars, and used it on his very first session for RCA. ¶ By the mid-70s Les Paul was retired and Chet Atkins was increasingly absorbed by executive work at RCA Nashville. In 1974 Atkins paired himself with Merle Travis for an album, "The Atkins-Travis Travelling Show," which prompted a friend to suggest he try a pairing with Les Paul. The two guitarists worked out a song list that collected pop and jazz standards, with arrangements that merged details from each of their lengthy recording and performing careers. ¶ With Atkins' guitar stage left, and Paul's stage right, the disc plays like a conversation, with each taking turns at lead between some coordinated unison playing. The difference in their styles is subtle but immediate, with Atkins' staccato inflections often more country and blue than the cool of Paul's jazz fingerings. The use of head (non-written) arrangements gave these sessions a very organic feel, with the Nashville rhythm section (piano, drums, bass, guitar) integrated seamlessly with the guitarists. There's some friendly competition, with each showing off their remarkable chops and goading the other to greater heights, and there's plenty of friendly verbal jousting before, after and during the. Paul used his renowned overdubbing on only a pair of tracks ("Caravan" and "Lover Come back to Me"), so the sessions remained quite spontaneous. ¶ The four bonus tracks include an alternate version of "Caravan," as well as a rehearsal of "Moonglow / Picnic" that picks up slowly as the duo finds their way through the medley, and eventually dissolves into their own instant review of the performance. Superstar pairings have become such common "events" that they've lost a great deal of their magic, but this one – two genius innovators getting together just to play – is still as musically rich as the day it was originally recorded. [©2007 redtunictroll at hotmail dot com]

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