by S. Victor Aaron, Something Else Reviews
Back in high school while my buddies were air guitaring to Led Zeppelin, Boston and Lynard Skynard, ol’ Ish here played out fantasies of ripping up the fret board like Larry Carlton. I got hooked on his super tasty, blues-based guitar work from his time with Steely Dan and the Crusaders (it was only later that I discovered that he played on a jillion other records of every musical style around that time). When Carlton left the Crusaders by the end of ’76, he embarked on a solo career that he pursued earnestly up to this day, racking up four Grammies and 19 Grammy nominations along the way. I followed his solo career closely from the late 70s through the mid 90s and on and off after that, depending on whether his project was more or less commercially inclined.
Four Hands & A Heart Volume One, currently his most recent project, most definitely falls on the non-commercial side of the Larry ledger. These are tracks performed entirely by Mr. 335 himself, each with a rhythm guitar, a lead guitar and sometimes a rhythm track that I could have sworn came from a Casio keyboard. Moreover, every song came from Carlton’s first three Warner Bros. releases that were also his first three albums of his post-Crusaders solo career: Larry Carlton (1978), Strikes Twice (1980) and Sleepwalk (1982).
Carlton is a seriously polished producer and songwriter in addition to being a phenomenal guitarist, so it might be tempting to slam Four Hands & A Heart as the half assed work of someone taking the easy way out by recycling old tunes and making what are essentially demos out of them. That’s one way to look at it, but looking at it in such a way overlooks the real, substantial merits of this album. Carlton takes these songs and — unless they’re ballads like “It Was Only Yesterday” — slows them down from their original renderings. By doing so, he makes it easier for guitar enthusiasts dissect his lead parts on songs that were originally played with impossibly complex chord clusters played in tightly compacted spaces. And Carlton’s leads sound great slow as much as they sound great fast, because of the nuance and feel he invests into every note; “Room 335″ and “Strikes Twice” are such guitar burners heard in an entirely different light as they’re stripped and decelerated.
Secondly, removing all that production leaves these songs bare, and that makes it easier to appreciate what memorable, nicely constructed melodies Carlton was crafting at a time when he was known only as the pre-eminent studio guitarist in L.A. Carlton’s minor charting hit, “Sleepwalk” is featured, too, although that’s the lone song that’s not his own, and offers perhaps the least revelations with this rendition. The old school fans like me will notice that the songs are all sequenced in the same way as they were on the original albums, when allowing for the songs he skipped. Curiously though, the Sleepwalk songs come before the earlier songs from Strikes Twice.
So although Four Hands & A Heart Volume One might be narrowly focused in its mission, there’s something in it for Larry Carlton fans of every stripe. Guitar fans will find plenty of the accomplished six-string performances Carlton never fails at delivering, even at the leisurely pace found here. Original fans will get to walk down memory lane with Carlton as he takes on strains of solid songs guys like me hadn’t heard in years. And later fans get a fine introduction to his pre-”Smiles And Smiles To Go” fare.
One final thing about this record that’s pretty damned neat: here is a musician who, with all his accomplishments spanning four decades, makes a demo-like record that could have been by some talented but unknown musician to shop around to record labels in hopes of catching his first big break. And yet, this record earned Carlton that 19th Grammy nomination. So, I guess he passed the audition.
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Source: Jazz Journal
There is always a sense of anticipation seeing Larry Carlton perform live, where he can give full vent to his prodigious talents as a legendary – and I use the term advisedly – guitarist, composer and arranger. He first picked up a guitar aged six, and the rest is an unbroken history.
He was joined on stage at the Leicester Square Theatre by his son, Travis Carlton (bass), Gene Coye (drums), and Dennis Hamm (keyboards). They gelled well as a unit, although the balance and levels on the various keyboards were not always ideal. Carlton quietly walked on stage to tell us he never quite knows what he is going to play on a given night, but that he would “try all kinds of stuff” – exciting.
The set opened with two solo pieces on his trademark Gibson ES-335, the first a mood-setting slow ballad, then inviting the band members one by one to join him on stage, before ripping into an ensemble finger-snapping and driving funk groove. As aficionados would expect, the guitar work was by turns tasty, mean, incendiary and lyrical.
A jazz piece followed with melodic shades of Autumn Leaves. Carlton once described the blues as a big part of his spirit, and the evening was lit up by three very contrasting outings providing him the acres of space to explore his vast range of tone and voicing. Next up was Steely Dan’s Josie, a tune that bears so much of his inimitable stamp, before the first set closed with a slow-burning blues full of note-bending.
The venue had apparently required an interval, to the bemusement of the audience – and Carlton himself, who was on song and in full cry – and after the break, the tempo slackened perceptibly with a more pop-inflected Smiles And Smiles To Go” from the 1986 Alone/But Never Alone album. Another ballad, then a change of gear with the taut and springy Ultralight, Carlton’s final composition for Fourplay, whom he left in early 2010 after 12 years, to “delve further into his solo career”.
Carlton, conscious of his legacy, has always passed on his knowledge and experience to others, whether via his online guitar clinics – the audience seemed full of guitar players of a certain age – or here, where he endearingly decided upon an impromptu question and answer session with the audience. Some predictably impossible to answer questions followed, but he mentioned that his greatest early influences remain Coltrane and Miles, and of guitar players – Joe Pass.
He also said: “the music comes out emotionally, I’m not even aware of what’s coming out.” This is how I have always experienced his music – emotionally substantial, contained but free, and always very personal and direct. The evening closed with his signature Room 335. Alas, no encore as he had to be up at 5am to perform next evening in Bilbao. Even a 64-year-old on top form, peeling back the years, needs his sleep.
Larry Carlton just announced a new international tour starting in July. Check out this review for an idea of what you might get out of the experience of attending one of those shows!
Source: “Larry Carlton reaffirms his spot among guitar legends” – Dallas Morning News
The jazz-rock guitar legend warned fans at the Granada Theater on Friday night not too expect too much. For starters, he hadn’t touched a guitar in three weeks, and he fretted over what might happen to his fingers. “Anyone have a Band-Aid?” he joked.
He was also playing for the first time with Tim Lefebvre, who was filling in for Travis Carlton, the guitarist’s son and usual bassist. But neither the new player nor the tender digits detracted from a show that reaffirmed Carlton’s status as one the best guitarists most people never heard of — even though they’ve probably heard his work.
Like Lee Ritenour — another Fourplay alum who performed in the area recently — Carlton started out as an L.A. studio cat playing on scores of records in ’70s and ’80s, including Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall and the theme from Hill Street Blues. But he’s most revered for his work with Steely Dan: His tasty wailing on “Kid Charlemagne” inspired Rolling Stone to rank it as one of the “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time.”
Sadly, Carlton skipped “Charlemagne” Friday, but he did play two other Steely Dan tunes: A superfast overhaul of “Peg,” and “Josie,” which he inexplicably introduced as “a song I hate to play.” Maybe so. But he performed it with supple gusto, bending notes and holding them until he’d arranged the perfect marriage of bebop and blues.
Carlton began the show alone, showing off a feathery touch on “Goodbye,” a ballad he dedicated to Les Paul. Staying in a mellow mood with a cover of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” he poured enough sweet soul into the tune you barely missed Teddy Pendergrass’ voice.
His quartet then joined him, and Carlton picked up the pace, slashing his way through jump blues and fiery fusion. Like Jeff Beck, he’s the rare guitarist who rocks hard without resorting to the clichés of hard rock.
He got subtle backing from keyboardist Dennis Hamm and drummer Gene Coye. And bass ace Lefebvre did an admirable job for his first night with the band, although he had trouble with the ’50s classic “Sleep Walk” after a fan shouted a request for it.
But the backing band was almost an afterthought in a show that was basically an extended 90-minute guitar solo. That might sound unappetizing to anyone but guitar fanatics. But in Carlton’s nimble hands, it was one really long guitar solo well worth hearing.
Q: You have a very nuanced style; you seem to use every available technique to give your solos their expressive quality. How much of that is down to your jazz background?
“I think a lot of that comes from the jazz guys I listened to in my younger years. I think most of us, whether guitar players or other musicians, we try to emulate what has touched us emotionally as we’ve listened to other players. And the things that you’re hearing, that you’ve described as nuances in my playing, obviously I heard those some place and responded emotionally to them. So you try to emulate that and pretty soon, as your technique gets better and you gain more experience, you’re able to show your own emotion because you’ve heard those kinds of nuances [in other musicians’ playing]“.
Q: How old were you when you started studying jazz?
“I was around 14 when I became interested in jazz. I never took jazz guitar lessons. I learned the jazz stuff by listening to records and copying – and analysing. That’s the bit I like to focus on when I’m talking to students at clinics. I didn’t just learn a passage by Joe Pass. I learned it, but then I analysed it: ‘Why did he play those notes right there against that chord?’ That’s where the knowledge comes in. You can cop a lick or cop a solo, but to understand how or why it could work against those changes… that opens it up for you to play over changes yourself because you have a knowledge of it.”
Q: You have said that you think like a composer and arranger even when you are improvising. Can you describe how you came up with the solos on our tracks?
“I think it’s my basic approach. Normally I start with some kind of a motif and it’s usually simple. So then I have the opportunity to develop that motif and not just play a bunch of notes. I’m aware of the first [musical] statement, I usually emulate that first statement again and that leads me down the path of making a composition out of something rather than just playing a bunch of notes on the guitar. That’s a compositional technique that the classical composers used years ago. They always started with a motif then a reiteration of the motif, and they would play the motif backwards sometimes after they’d developed it a little further and it became a composition rather than just some piano notes.”
Q: Did you use your original ’69 Gibson ES-335 or your signature LC model on our tracks, ‘Striped Shirt’ and ‘Mind The Gaps’?
“I used my original. That’s the one I had in the studio on the days I was working on those. I take it with me on the road still. I was given a gift by a fan, maybe five years ago now. A fan contacted me at my office and said that he had a 1968 ES-335 that had been sitting in a closet at his grandmother’s or his aunt’s house. 17 years untouched. In his note he said, ‘You’re my favourite guitarist and I would like to give you this guitar as your backup if you like it.’ It was basically a virgin 1968 and it sounded and played wonderfully – so I accepted his gift! Sometimes over the last three years I’ve taken that out on the road just for a change of feel.”
Q: Can you confirm, is your original 335 a ’68 or a ’69? There seems to be some disagreement online.
“I believe it’s a ’69. Although I always thought it was a ’68, but I think I’ve learned from my [guitar] tech over the years… I don’t pay much attention to that stuff! [Laughs]”
Q: Which amp did you use to record?
“I used my Bludotone. I stopped using Dumble about three years or so ago. My Dumbles were getting very tired and Mr Dumble has some health issues. It was getting harder and harder to communicate with him as far as getting my amps to him and having him keep them up to date. So I met [Bludotone’s] Brandon Montgomery, a small, custom amp maker who knows exactly how to copy a Dumble. I gave him my Dumbles and he matched the tone, all the components… I’m very happy with my Bludotone, so that’s what I used on those tracks.”
Q: We’ve worked hard to make our exam pieces as credible as possible. Can you give us your impression of them in terms of composition and production?
“I immediately noticed how each composition encompasses many techniques as opposed to just a song with certain techniques. You have to be able to play 16th notes, you have to be able to slide, you have to be able to bend, you have to be able to change time signatures – ‘Mind The Gaps’ was straight eighth notes until the solo then it was a shuffle. All of those things will be great tools for students to work on and I think these compositions will really challenge them and open doors for them because they have to play those different kinds of styles.”