Jazz CD Reviews

Lenny Breau – LA Bootleg Guitararchives & 12 Hit Wonder

A prodigious talent but an unfulfilled life.

Published on December 17, 2014

Lenny Breau – LA Bootleg Guitararchives & 12 Hit Wonder

Lenny Breau – LA Bootleg Guitararchives & 12 Hit Wonder – 270201, 66:27 ****:

(Lenny Breau – seven-string guitar; Ted Hank – drums; Paul Gormley – bass)

Guitarist Lenny Breau’s life was a combination of success and misfortune. Born in Maine, he came to Canada with his family at an early age. From 1957 to 1976, he lived and worked in a variety of Canadian cities  but built his reputation as a brilliant but troubled jazz guitarist in Toronto. Returning to the U.S. in 1976 he lived a peripatetic existence, finally settling in Los Angeles in 1983. He struggled to overcome an addiction problem which inhibited his success as a musician. He died in 1984 under mysterious circumstances (thought to be murdered but unproven) in the swimming pool of his Los Angeles apartment. This live session, recorded at Donte’s in Hollywood  on June 4, 1984, is a wonderful example of the style and technique that made him such a unique jazz player.

Although he was the child of musical parents, his guitar talent was mostly self-taught until he arrived in Winnipeg Manitoba in the mid-fifties. Here he came to the attention of local pianist Bob Erlendson, who taught him the rudiments of chords, scales and theory which formed the basis of his improvisational technique. Breau believed he could play the guitar like a piano, by simultaneously  playing a chord, melody, and bass-line. With endless practice, he eventually made this transition using a seven-string guitar to assist in this process.

This startling technique is on full display throughout this session beginning with the opening track “I Love You”. From the opening bars, Breau’s command of the fretboard and his picking speed are in full flower. He attacks and dominates the tune. The Tadd Dameron/Carl Sigman show-piece “If You Could See Me Now” is a lovingly thought-out ballad that Breau does with sensitivity and creativity. It frequently sounds as if there are two guitarists at work instead of one. Assisting Breau in this session are two sympathetic players, namely bassist Paul Gormley and drummer Ted Hanks. They more than earn their keep, as they offer outstanding support where required. They push Breau on the up-tempo version of the Harry Warren/Mack Gordon standard “There Will Never Be Another You”  where both players take well-earned solos.

The Miles Davis theme “Four” is a perfect vehicle for Breau to continue his excursion into the upper-register of the fretboard with startling single-note lines, all the while he comps the theme, and then offers space for bassist Gormley to show his strong tone. This segues nicely into the Ram Ramirez piece “Lover Man”  to which Breau brings a harmonic underpinning that focusses on the strong chord structure of the number.

If listening to Lenny Breau’s exceptional technique does not satisfy you, check out the YouTube video from 1966 entitled The Lenny Breau Show to see how it was accomplished. 

TrackList: I Love You; If You Could See Me Now; Blues Number One; Stella By Starlight; Days Gone By; There Will Never Be Another You; When I Fall In Love; Four; Lover Man; Blues Number Two; Noel’s Theme

—Pierre Giroux




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