Lee Ritenour and Larry Carlton seem such a logical duet combination that it's almost hard to believe they had never paired up before recording "Larry & Lee" last year. Both guitarists moved from the Los Angeles session scene into jazz fusion about the same time, and each has earned a large following through his pristine technique and pop-oriented material. It's almost as if the two were just opposite sides of the same coin.
So what took them so long?
"Even though Larry and I knew each other for many years, we didn't know each other very well," explains Ritenour, over the phone from his office in L.A. "We were always somewhat competitive. We were the lead guitar players in Los Angeles, first doing sessions, then in our solo records. So it was like two male lead actors who don't necessarily work together."
There was also a slight generational difference, adds Carlton. "I'm about four years older than Lee, so right about the time he was getting into the thick of being an L.A. session player, I was quitting that phase of my career," he says. "And then after that, I didn't do sessions hardly at all, so I didn't even see any of the other guitar players in L.A., either."
What finally brought the two together was a merger. MCA, which had signed Carlton, bought GRP, where Ritenour was recording, and consolidated the two jazz catalogs under the GRP name.
"We were both getting a lot of requests from our fans, people writing in, 'When are Lee Ritenour and Larry Carlton going to do an album together? You're our two favorite guitar players,' this kind of thing," says Ritenour. "The record company was also aware of these requests, so finally we got together."
"They actually presented [the idea] back in 1991, but it wasn't the right time for the project then," adds Carlton. "I had just joined the GRP label, so I felt that it was important that I do some albums on my own for this new label, rather than jump right in and do a duet album. So we let some time go by."
One of the risks involved in getting two virtuosos together is that they often spend too much time trying to impress each other and not enough entertaining the listeners. "The pitfall of doing any kind of duet album, especially duet guitar albums, is that they turn out sometimes to be a show-off-your-chops kind of affair," says Ritenour. "But Larry and I are both known for being quite tasteful and very melody-oriented, so that was never a question."
"Lee and I both agreed that we wanted to have enough flash on the album so that the guitar players would enjoy it," agrees Carlton, "but we wanted to maintain the integrity of the song and of the performance, just like we would on our own solo albums. So we never even thought, 'Well, let's pick two tunes where we can really blast the guitar players with our technique.' We never discussed it."
"The guitar playing you hear on the record is, for the most part, live at the sessions," continues Ritenour. "There was very little overdubbing; what you hear is what went down. If you listen to the fades on a lot of the tracks, you'll hear a lot of bouncing back dTC and forth between Larry and I, exchanging different improvisational licks. It was always very complimentary. We were always saying, 'You take this melody.' 'No, Lee, you take this melody.' And the guys in the band were saying, 'Somebody take the melody!'
"So musically, it's been quite easy working with Larry, because we're both coming from the same spirit."
Since the duo has taken the show on the road, that relationship has only improved. "There's an added familiarity factor with the material," says Carlton of the concert performances. "Lee and I understanding each other's musical vocabulary more. So there is a substantial difference. The integrity of what was put down on that record is always maintained, but there's just a freer, looser kind of attitude toward it."