A great idea is a good idea that lasts. The Great Guitars have had a great idea for more than a decade now. Brought together by a producer's whim, Charlie Byrd, Herb Ellis and Barney Kessel quickly established a near-perfect empathy that allowed their contrasting styles to meld through an irresistible sense of swing.
Ellis' blues base, Kessel's bop tendencies and Byrd's Latin/classical leanings may seem disparate elements, but as "Great Guitars at Charlie's Georgetown" shows, the strengths blend gorgeously.
The program is drawn from the rich melodic motherlode of American popular song, with the exception of "When the Saints Go Marching In," done here samba-style and featuring some deft and energetic interplay. The album's dominant moods are either reflective (Irving Berlin's stately "Change Partners" and Willard Robison's poignant and lovely "Old Folks") or softly rambunctious (Harold Arlen's "Get Happy" and a spry "Where or When").
The three guitarists, smoothly propelled by Joe Byrd's bass and Chuck Redd's drums, gracefully trade off on lead and rhythm. The solos are succinct, never tedious. Byrd's finger- style acoustic fullness provides a warm frame for Kessel and Ellis' sinewy single-note excursions. The individual chases are quietly dazzling, but some of the most delightful work comes in the ensemble passages, where harmonic subtleties and snappy counterpoint prevail.
The album was recorded on Great Guitars' most recent visit to Charlie's; now they're back and, with luck, extending the ebullient groove of this record. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM GREAT GUITARS -- Great Guitars at Charlie's Georgetown (Concord Jazz CJ- 209). THE SHOW GREAT GUITARS, Friday through Sunday at Charlie's Georgetown.