Speed, Harmony, Warmth: All the Farlow You Need, but Not All the Eddie Costa

Why fellow guitarists continue to revere Tal Farlow (1921–1998) is evident throughout The Complete Verve Sessions. Farlow's speed, his harmonic acumen, and the warmth he coaxes out of his amplifier enliven a succession of what might otherwise be humdrum 1950s blowing dates—the happiest of which is one from '55 with West Coasters Bill Perkins, Bob Cooper, and Bob Enevoldsen. Because Universal, from whom this material was leased, also controls the Decca catalog, there's a nifty bonus in a 1952 Red Norvo Trio session featuring Farlow and Red Mitchell—not as exciting as the edition with dueling virtuosos Farlow and Charles Mingus, but smoother and more harmonious. Three of the seven discs present the trio Farlow led for two years beginning in 1956 with Eddie Costa on piano, and these are the real treat. (Vinnie Burke was originally the bassist, and a drummer was added for the group's final date.) In contrast to the airborne Farlow, Costa—who died driving drunk on the West Side Highway in 1962, at the age of 31—takes the low road, knuckling down in the keyboard's bottom register and building a groundswell of suspense with his clusters and double octaves. Like Herbie Nichols and Richard Twardzik, Costa is one of those oddballs you can get hooked on. (Available by mail order only:

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