Larry Carlton / Tak Matsumoto

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Guitarists Larry Carlton and Tak Matsumoto -- the former a prolific American who's played on hundreds of albums and recorded under his own name since the late '60s, the latter a rock legend in Asia via his group B'z (he's reportedly sold 80 million albums in Japan alone) -- find common ground on this collection of duets. Their styles are simpatico and there are virtuoso licks to spare. But while both of these guys are undeniably masters, what's missing is a sense that they have much to say when they join forces, something both have proven they can do on their own. Carlton and Matsumoto appear to be carrying on a conversation with each other that excludes the audience -- we can marvel at their technique, and there's plenty of that to go around, but there's rarely a sense that the two musicians have put their hearts and souls into these songs. The bandmembers -- keyboardist Jeff Babko, drummer Billy Kilson, bassist Michael Rhodes, and various horn men -- are up to the task of fleshing out whatever the two axemen toss their way, but they don't always seem to know where to go with what they've been given. The arrangements -- split about half and half between Carlton and Matsumoto -- are never overly complex, and while the musicians have ample room to stretch out, they rarely run with it, staying within prescribed boundaries. Perhaps that's because the material, although quite melodic, is rarely memorable -- the songs take a back seat to the presentation of proficiency itself. At times the leaders appear to stop themselves short -- it seems that they would love to break out and truly kick some ass but are constraining themselves -- and so the band follows suit, playing admirably but failing to make a personal statement. Fans who only care about craft will undoubtedly find much here to praise, but those more interested in music's emotional powers and a more visceral listening experience are likely to find this display rather cold and unmoving.

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