Many of today's most rewarding guitar records come from experienced performers whose reputations have somehow avoided inflation. Jimmy Raney, for example, has never had anything like the acclaim given a John McLaughlin, a George Benson, or even a Kenny Burrell. Raney's return from New York to his native Louisville in the early 1960s was followed by a virtually unrecorded decade. Yet his work with Stan Getz and Al Haig in the early 1950s made for him a strong case as the guitarist of those years; and his return to records in the mid-1970s showed him as a soloist who had clearly been growing while nobody was looking.
Raney's latest, "Solo" (Xanadu 140), is his first unaccompanied release; most of its pieces involve overdubbing, with one Raney providing a bass line for the other. "The Fugue" and "Blues Variations" are elaborately arranged, but even in improvised sections their complex guitar lines make way for each other, flowing together instead of choking one another off. The more casual "New Signal" (with no dubbing) and "How Deep Is the Ocean," (two outstanding examples of romantic modern guitar at its most minutely nuanced, balance a self-portrait of an artist long overdue for wider hearing.
Tal Farlow's career has in many ways run parallel to Raney's. Raney followed Farlow in the Red Norvo trio of the early 1950s; and both of these mutual admirers have been deliberately reclusive as performers. (Farlow's hideaway is on the New Jersey shore.) Farlow has a slightly higher profile, stemming in part from the unfortunate world's-fastest-guitarist trick-dog reviews of his early days: but he now records even more rarely than Raney.
So "Second Set" (Xanadu 119) is not exactly a new record; it is newly released from a tape of a well-recorded private session by Farlow's 1956 trio with pianist Eddie Costa and bassist Vinnie Burke. Though tempos tend to be brisk, Farlow does not use them to prove his limits. Instead, he bears down on a steady stream of eighth-notes - difficult if not exactly virtuosic, and eventually numbling - in an effort at maximum momentum. No wonder, Costa's piano lines roll through the bass register with a bounding drive that would make a lot of soloists feel anemic by comparison.
Little of Costa is now available on record. His reading and swinging skills on piano and vibes led him into studio work. After too many records with gimmicked "ideas" and musicians of marginal jazz ability, he died at 31 in a 1962 car crash. But "Second Set" and its predecessor (Xanadu 109) show him at his best - with the infectiousness of a Horace Silver, but also with his own two handed command. Contrapuntal improvising was much discussed and much tried in the 1950s; Costa seemed to do it intuitively, and anyone who hears that intuitive grace will know his was a major loss.
Marty Grosz played around Chicago from the late 1940s, gradually building a reputation as a "traditional" jazz player before joining the Bob Wilber-Kenny Davern Soprano Summit group several years ago. Grosz's duels with guitarist Wayne Wright in "Let Your Fingers Do the Walking" (Aviva 6000) show the same qualities of intelligence, creativity and effortlessly enjoyable musicianship that distinguish Soprano Summit's handling of older jazz styles. Perhaps the Grosz-Wright repertoire, anchored as it is by the post-ragtime compositions of Carl Kress and Dick McDonough, and Wright's rather florid Django Reinhardt solos. But Reinhardt and Kress-McDonough both sprang from 1920s pioneer Eddie Lang, whose work with violinist Joe Venuti recently reappeared on "Stringing the Blues" (Columbia JC2L 24); and thus the blend works.
Two imitation-Fats Waller vocals by Grosz, though sincerely meant as tributes to the celebrated pianist-entertainer, displace valuable guitar space in favor of what still seems like a burntcork routine, and many will not agree that such routines are in good fun. The instrumental 90 percent of Grosz-Wright, however - Wright's lines slithering around Grosz's steady chords - provides a constantly varying series of delights.
Finally, there is "Page One" (Hugo's Music 105), recorded in Washington last April by locally based Nathan Page. Page, now heard most often with Charles Tolliver's Music Inc., has had national exposure since 1965 with such as Jimmy Smith, Sonny Rollins, and an early and unrecorded version of the Tony Williams Lifetime. In his first own record, Page shows strong mastery of the 1960s mainstream; he would have fit perfectly into the early John Coltrance group, or the classic Miles Davis unit of a decade ago. This is not a new role for a guitarist - Benson, McLaughin and Pat Martino all toyed with it before reaching for the higher-income brackets - but Page handles well, and for the moment he is handling it almost alone. There is some choppy editing on this self-produced disc, particularly at the opening of "Who Shot John" (And is there also some dubbed applause?); but that doesn't disguise the integrity that governed the choice of Page's supporting musicians, or his taste in handling the obligatory backbeat number "Whoop It On Up."