Review of Larry Carlton’s Show at Leicester Square Theatre

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.

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