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Pickin Cotten by Lenny Breau & Richard Cotten

Lenny Breau has been considered one of the shining lights of jazz guitar since he exploded onto the scene in the 1970s. Unfortunately, drug problems dimmed that light forever in 1984. This set of music recorded at Nashville's Blue Bird on September 23 and 24, 1977 by guitarist Cotten is a wonderful sampler of what made Breau so breathtaking. There are passages of such deep introspection as to seem almost invasive of private moments, as well as bursts of lines so complicated in their structure as to inspire awe in the most accomplished players and educated listeners. To call him brilliant is to state the obvious. While Cotten usually holds his own with the maestro, he is relegated largely to accompanist status.

Opening with "On Green Dolphin Street," Breau is subdued, almost tentative before dropping a series of runs that dazzles. The duo's 8-plus minutes on Cole Porter's "I Love You" are serenely offered. Breau can be heard giving Cotten key and time signature cues, which is one of the truly exciting aspects of these recordings. The stage patter is minimal, they've unquestionably come to work, but the background noises (including a ringing telephone) and vocal and musical interplay between the guitarists and the audience make this a first-rate "live" recording. Nothing was shined up and polished for release. This is the way it was those nights. On Johnny Mandell and Johnny Mercer's exquisite "Emily," introduced as a "jazz waltz" by Breau (who counts off six), this gorgeous ballad is followed by Bird's classic "Scrapple From The Apple" with as much finger flash as Breau could muster. He didn't so much blow the notes by at 60 mph so much as he flowed them like a quicksilver liquid. It takes a concentrated ear to hear that he is playing notes here that aren't possible for one man. Certainly, Cotten is in the fray with him, but Breau plays notes for two already. "Autumn Leaves" is delivered at a relatively sprite tempo and demonstrates more than anything else on the set how well Breau and Cotten worked together.

"La FunkaLLero" is the first of a pair of Bill Evans tunes here that demonstrate Breau's mastery of this extremely complicated music. "Stella By Starlight" (announced in the key of F) is extraordinarily sweet, again showcasing Breau's sensitive side. Evans' "The Two Lonely People" is beautifully played and demonstrates Breau's ability to approach the guitar from a both a chordal and modal style. There are moments here that are hypnotic and fairly "out", befitting the complicated composition and the brilliant player. This segues seamlessly into the final cut, a superb takes on Miles Davis' "Nardis"

Guitarchives is the label started by Randy Bachman (of Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive fame) specifically to bring the music (especially the rarities) of Lenny Breau to a wider audience.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Lenny Breau & Richard Cotten
  • CD Title: Pickin Cotten
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2001
  • Record Label: Guitarchives
  • Rating: Four Stars
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