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Guitar Elation

Updated: Jun 26

Double Live at Green Lady Lounge

Jazz Daddy Records—JDR-2001V

I’m so jealous. You know the feeling? When you hear a jazz album that you—as a musician and a fan—totally dig, and, after repeated listenings, suddenly wish you were IN the band that’s on the record? Yeah, that was me when I heard four of my favorite KC artists —the group dubbed Guitar Elation—throwin’ down hard on the tunes performed in their recent unique collaborative effort, Double Live at Green Lady Lounge, recorded in front of a full house made up of an appreciative audience on Thursday August 10, 2017.



The classic organ trio—A “double trio” in this case, features Hammond B3 king Ken Lovern as the centerpiece, with world-class drummer Todd Strait as the anchor on drums, and alternating guitarists Danny Embrey and Brian Baggett as the switch-hitters in the ensemble. Embrey serves as elder statesman to Baggett, who more than holds his own under the watchful eyes and ears of Danny’s veteran shadow, and lemme tell ya—there’s some serious fire-power coming out of those twelve strings between ‘em. Speaking about Embrey, Lovern says, “most of the tunes are his. We’re kind of a ‘Danny Embrey Tribute Band.’”

Although Embrey wrote the majority of the songs nearly thirty years ago, the band had no problem breathing new life into old material. Sonically speaking, the configuration in the speakers or headphones places Lovern and Strait in the center, with Embrey in the right channel and Brian in the left (Todd’s hi-hat is also mixed in the right-side speaker along with Danny’s guitar.)

“Defunct” was written with John Scofield in mind, Danny confessed. The mid-tempo blues/funk jam has angular, dissonant lines weaved into the melody. Embrey effortlessly darts in-and-out of the stagnant dominant chords, which leads Baggett to rise to the challenge and increase the Sco-flow with his own brand of dissonance and syncopation. As the band builds tension over each continuous round, the joy ride stretches over eleven minutes.

In like fashion, “Funkshun Junction” allows both guitarists ample room to stretch their legs and run—Embrey’s solo is deliciously dizzy and dazzling. While Strait serves as the pocket master, Lovern conjures images of Booker T. with his melismatic lines.

“Dues Blues” sounds like a casual Friday night gathering in a South Side supper club, with Lovern playing the role of Jimmy Smith hosting the party. Embrey is grooving along leisurely, when out of nowhere the tempo shifts upward into high gear, and Baggett provides an aerial, aural assault that swings like mad. But wait—there’s more. The tempo now dives downward this time—into a dripping, greasy blues that allows Lovern to languish in the luxury of it, before the original tempo returns.

“Manly Bunny” is Brian Baggett’s sole contribution, and it’s a real keeper—try to imagine if Wes Montgomery joined Steely Dan. It’s a smooth, groove-elated minor-key blues with great chord changes on the bridge. Both Baggett and Embrey take perfect percolating solos on this one.

As for Lovern’s contribution, he offers a pair of tunes—“The Cart” and “The Rewinder,” which are both part of a larger suite named after audio visual devices of the 1970’s. “The Cart” (think classroom teachers with A/V equipment in tow) has a boogaloo shuffle reminiscent of the soul-jazz CTI recordings. Baggett asserts himself by conjuring up flashes of Pat Martino, while Danny counter-punches by channeling 70’s-era George Benson. “The Rewinder” is a reverse-engineered construct of Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder.” Though originally written as a keyboard feature, Lovern says this version “has ‘Q & A’ elements to it, so it’s really cool for me to hear it played with two guitar players!”

Embrey describes “Gotta Run” as “a Wes-influenced fast riff tune.” Indeed, this blues cooker does hustle at a brisk clip. Lovern digs deep with all the energy of the Smith Brothers (Jimmy and Lonnie Liston), and Baggett burns with blazing bebop chops. We also finally get to hear Todd Strait strut his stuff—he takes a Blakey-meets-Roach solo that is irresistible to the ears.

The final track, “Medusa” cranks up as another tune “with Scofield in mind,” says Embrey. Admittedly, the changes are tough to navigate, which makes the sophisticated crowd even more appreciative of his gallant effort when he survives the ordeal.

This double-disc set arrives in both CD format and in vinyl. While the album version contains the essential eight songs, the CD issue also has those, plus a few extra goodies. On this second bonus disc, Embrey offers up a pair of Latin-tinged tunes that, according to Danny, were both directly influenced by years of his extensive touring with the Brasilian group Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66. “Samba 88” is an easy-going piece that instantly reminds me of Pat Metheny’s 1978 samba, “Phase Dance,” while “Amazonas” moves at an even more leisurely pace, with winding-road changes that Embrey slithers through with grace. Three other shortened, “radio-edits” of “Manly Bunny,” “Gotta Run,” and “The Rewinder” are also present.

John Scott, owner of the lounge, liked the idea of putting a super group together. “This project is the result of his ambitious vision and a lot of hard work and perseverance,” says Lovern, who tag-teamed with Scott’s Green Lady Radio to produce this venture on Ken’s own label, Jazz Daddy Records. Sounds like their collective vision is already paying huge dividends.

—Wayne Goins


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