"In The Middle" CD Review
by JIM CARLTON
Just Jazz Guitar Magazine - August 2006
This group bills themselves as the trio that sounds like a quartet, no doubt because of the overlapping capabilities of Ron Escheté at the 7-string guitar and Todd Johnson playing a 6-string bass. It's unique, and both players as well as Kendall Kay, a fine and popular L.A. drummer, are superb artists. Escheté has established himself as one of the most respected jazz guitarists in the field, and has been for several years.
There are those who prefer an acoustic upright bass in guitar trios, nevertheless, Todd Johnson delivers with marvelous creativity and great chops. And while the timbre of an upright bass is sacrificed here, it usually is in guitar-organ based groups as well; and admittedly Johnson can cover more musical ground with his 6-string than most any upright player. And part of the charm of this group is the synergy created by the instrumentation, even if the bass ceases to function as one when Johnson solos and Escheté lays down the bottom along with his comping.
This was recorded live, at L.A.'s Spazio, with the CD's tracks culled from the evening's best performances. Kay, an asset to any group, provides solid and tasteful support throughout as the two guitarists weave their way through lengthy versions of such great tunes as "Indian Summer," "Taking A Chance on Love," "Bluesette," "Laddy Be Good," "Autumn Leaves" and an Escheté original, "Mama's Home Cookin'" that's reminiscent of Horace Silver's "The Preacher."
With so many fine guitar duos recording today, no doubt a point of difference is a valuable thing, although I doubt if this instrumentation was calculated. It probably just happened and worked. For that matter, if you put three players of this caliber together in any viable context, chances are they'll yield marvelous music. And what you have here is a simple concept: three excellent artists that are exponents of first-rate material. Throw in good chemistry, professionalism and experience and it will manifest music that's sophisticated and appealing to any discerning jazz fan.
(Jim Carlton is the author of Conversations With Great Jazz Guitarists)