An album of acoustic guitar duets? What next? There's some revolutionary thinking for you! When did we last get such a package?
Putting the mock sarcasm to one side, I think the answer might be when Marty Grosz did something similar with Wayne Wright for the Aviva label. A few years ago, I heard that he and Peters were getting together and playing duets for their own pleasure and to keep alive an important aspect of jazz history started by Eddie Lang and Lonnie Johnson and continued by Dick McDonough, Carl Kress, Tony Mottola, George Van Eps, Albert Harris and a few others who flourished before Les Paul changed the whole concept of guitar playing.
Well, the pair's woodshedding paid off handsomely, for we now have a full CD by the East Coast fretmen -- and it's a pippin! Apart from a mandatory visit to some of the duet classics, there are a couple of originals and a new view of some of the great numbers that have graced the jazz repertoire for decades. I'm a great believer in the theory "Give `em something they know - especially if it's good." One such number is "The Mooche." But for two guitars!
It is easy to see why this duo shuns amplification. Each owns a magnificent vintage hand-built acoustic instrument that delivers and sustains beautiful tones but which demands that all forms of guitar speech (special effects unique to the guitar) are articulated by the performer and not via a steel rod, foot pedal or other electronic device. The quality of sound makes the effort worthwhile, and here we are treated to bends, hit-ons, pull-offs, glissandi, harmonics and just about every special effect the instrument can produce.
The album kicks off with a steaming version of "Jubilee," Grosz playing a chromatic bass in open-tenths with a change on every beat while Peters has a ball with the ever-rising melody. I was so intrigued by the bass part that I dusted off my old Gibson and tried playing a set of much easier chords to the same rhythm and with similar power. I was shattered long before the end. It's a fact that most non-musicians have no idea of the physical effort required to play an instrument. They think it's simply a matter of taste, talent, inspiration and practice. There's a lot of hard graft in the engine room on this one.
Highlights abound but perhaps my favorite track is Grosz's arrangement of "Street of Dreams" which deserves an award, not least for the way the voicings somehow evoke the lyrics. Uncanny.
Peters' composition, "The Silver Fox," is an attractive, haunting solo piece, and he pays due homage to the great Salvatore Massaro on "Eddie's Twister" on which Dave Boeddinghaus guests on piano. From his youth a great admirer and follower of Django Reinhardt, Peters continues to show the Belgian's influence without ever once resorting to his unique phrasing or invoking the gypsy heritage.
The other guest is clarinetist Ken Peplowski, who plays beautifully on the Carl Kress waltz "Love Song." The inevitable joshing and joking is kept within the confines of the studio - off mike - and this is a beautiful performance. I'll take versions of "Mood Hollywood," "If Dreams Come True" and "Gone With The Wind" any time, but here, all are given a fascinating facelift by the instrumentation. These are the tracks with special appeal for me, before the album ends with a trio of guitar classics and a Grosz original called "Midnight Oil" which indicates the hour of composition.