Two-Guitar Telepathy: Marc Johnson’s Second Sight

marc johnson

Released October 1987

Bought: Virgin Records Oxford Street, November 1987?

8/10

John Scofield, Bill Frisell

John Scofield, Bill Frisell

The two-guitar, bass and drums setup is of course one of the mainstays of rock’n’roll. The Stones, Neil Young/Crazy Horse and Velvet Underground typify the form. Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd meshed perfectly in Television and Lou Reed never sounded better than when he had Robert Quine cajoling him from stage-left during the ‘Blue Mask‘ era.

But in jazz and fusion, the two-guitar setup is not as common. Since 1987, there have been a number of two-guitar celebrity summits (such as Scofield/Metheny, Scofield/Frisell, Stern/Eric Johnson, Carlton/Ritenour etc) but ex-Bill Evans bassist Marc Johnson’s superb ECM solo albums, ’85’s Bass Desires and Second Sight, both featuring John Scofield and Bill Frisell, quite possibly started it all off.

Marc Johnson

Marc Johnson

1987’s Second Sight was considered somewhat of a disappointment on its original release, but for me this is the superior album of the two. I was a major Scofield fan when I bought it in ’87 but didn’t know Frisell’s name at all. I’m really glad I discovered his incredible playing here though.

Some of the interplay between Frisell and Scofield is nothing less than miraculous, although one could hardly think of two more different guitarists in approach. There’s an almost telepathic empathy between them, leaving each other space to play and at times even inadvertently doubling parts. And, to me, this doesn’t sound like typical ‘ECM jazz’ at all – it’s tough music, not for the faint-hearted.

The ever-reliable Peter Erskine slightly overplayed on the Bass Desires album but here expertly marshals the material without ever being overbearing, and the compositions are so fresh, memorable and catchy.

Only the opening ‘Crossing The Corpus Callosum’ sounds like a studio jam session, but this is no ordinary jam; Scofield’s emotive bluesy cries dissolve into a fantastically-eerie Frisell ambient soundscape, leading the track inexplicably into David Lynch territory.

‘Small Hands’ and ‘Hymn For Her’ are shimmering, moving ballads, with the guitarists’ approaches meshing beautifully. ‘Sweet Soul’ is a soulful slow swinger full of fantastic Scofield soloing.

‘1951’ is a superb Frisell composition evoking Thelonious Monk’s best work. ‘Thrill Seekers’ simply swings like hell and features a classic Frisell fuzzbox solo. ‘Twister’ is great fun, Scofield’s affectionate ode to surf rock with some very funky bass and guitar interplay and a short drum solo almost as memorable as Ringo’s on Abbey Road.

As far as I know, the band toured Europe but never the UK. Would love to have seen them. This performance is really special. No wonder Frisell is grinning like a Cheshire cat throughout.

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