Charlie Christian

The Genius of the Electric Guitar [Columbia]

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Charlie Christian's tragic death at the age of 23 is a firmly entrenched fact of jazz mythology. On The Genius of the Electric Guitar, which consists of various tracks recorded with the Benny Goodman Sextet and Orchestra, Christian's revolutionary guitar playing is clearly displayed. In keeping with the era, each of these 16 songs is relatively short, with each soloist allowed only a chorus or two to make their statements. Paucity of time troubles Christian and his compatriots not a whit, however, and they let loose with concise, swinging lines. Of the other soloists on display here, Lionel Hampton and Goodman himself play admirably, but Christian is in a different league altogether, his sophistication remarkable. Exhibit A: his solo in "Rose Room." Logically constructed and rhythmically varied, it is nevertheless eminently singable. Supplementary evidence, for those not convinced, can be found on "Seven Come Eleven," "Solo Flight," and "Air Mail Special." Towards the second half of the disc there is a tendency towards more meandering, hookless charts, such as the studio throwaways "Blues in B" and "Waiting for Benny." The inclusion of these tracks, but the omission of the sides Christian recorded with his own quintet, is a puzzling choice on the part of reissue producers Bob Altshuler and Michael Brooks, and mars what is otherwise a first-rate selection of material. Nevertheless, The Genius of the Electric Guitar is a fine introduction, not just to Charlie Christian's brilliant and all-too-brief career, but to jazz guitar in general.

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