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For 89 year old guitarist Mundell Lowe, age is not a deterrent, a ravage or a disqualifier. At last night's concert with Bob Boss, it truly seemed that playing music might be Lowe's fountain-of-youth. His technical facility was actually more astonishing than was evident in his ostensible "heydays" of the '50s and '60s.

In fact, Lowe's playing has achieved a purity and organic sense of flow that many of his contemporaries never attained. Lowe understands the concept of "electric-guitar" in a way that Barney Kessel and Joe Pass, (both excellent players) for instance, never fully came to terms with. I remember seeing Pass playing solo once where he harangued the sound-man for ten straight minutes for having the audacity to add reverb to his monitor!

Lowe's amplifier had it's own reverb, which he applied judiciously.

Consequently, the guitarist has a very rich, modern tone, which allows him to depart from the endless series of up and down streams of eighth notes common to jazz guitarists of the swing and bebop eras. On the other hand, he has retained many of the finer qualities of that generation's accomplishments, namely, an encyclopedic knowledge of chord inversion and voice-leading, and a superior sense of harmony-- lost on many of the post-Wes Montgomery six-stringers.

There's something inherently intimate about a guitar duet, and Lowe chose his partner wisely. Boss has a much different style and sound than Lowe-- he uses his guitar much more acoustically--you could hear the sound of his "box" more than his amp, for starters, and he's much busier than Lowe in his soloing.

What unites them is their affinity for the blues, a similar visceral connection to the swing-factor, and their obvious love of material from the Great American Songbook.

Opening with a blues in Eb, each guitarist staked out his territory for the evening. Lowe laced together singing lines of clear-toned ideas--each one cleanly articulated, while Boss played 'Trane to Lowe's Miles, by orbiting the changes with swirling ornaments, that swung, in a different way.

Lowe arranged the patriotic warhorse, "America The Beautiful," for improvisation and the results were sumptuous. Boss often strummed his guitar with a pick in the fashion of folk, rock or country musicians--not common in jazz though, and on this especially, it was very effective. Lowe inserted bebop commentary and they both packed the theme with blues asides. After trading solos they approached the tune with contrapuntal, almost Bach-like filigree.

Duke Ellington's "Do Nothing 'Til You Hear From Me," was another standout, which caused me to scribble down "effortless-swing." Both guitarists pounced on Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite," like snakes on mice--swallowing it whole. Lowe, who played with Parker, sailed through the knotty changes with casual ease, he even snuck a quote from "Take The A Train," in, for good measure.

Each guitarist took several unaccompanied turns at standards, Lowe was delicious with "I Remember Clifford," and "Imagination," and Boss owned a bluesy version of the Dave Brubek composition "In Your Own Sweet Way."

Nothing seemed to phase these cats. When local vocalist Sharon DuBois called out requests for "Star Eyes," and "Paper Moon," Lowe began both immediately, as if he had just been waiting for her to ask.

As I was preparing to leave, I couldn't help but notice three or four young fans (guitarists, if I had to bet), perhaps in their teens, standing in line, waiting for a word with the maestro. Sometimes, life is good like that.


Pictured: Mundell Lowe

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Jay Allen Sanford Dec. 11, 2011 @ 5:42 a.m.

Really enjoying how the local jazz coverage seems to have more than tripled at the Reader, thanks especially to blog posts like this, reviewing area performances!


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