Lenny Breau-"The Riverboat, Toronto" By Mark Miller
(Down Beat-July 17, 1975)
Personnel: Lenny Breau, acoustic and electric guitars; Don Thompson, bass; Marty Morell, drums.
A year or so ago, there was a rumor that Lenny Breau had died. Just a rumor, in fact, spread by word of mouth in much the same way as his reputation as a magical guitarist first grew. And, of course, it wasn't true: Lenny Breau is very much alive. Funny things, rumors.
He hasn't performed in about two years, however. This, his first week back from a long stay in Winnipeg, was something of a reunion: with Toronto, with the Riverboat (a small folk club which has often presented him in the decade or more that he has moved in and out of the city), and with an old friend and bassist, Don Thompson.
He began each evening alone, as he would have in the past when the occasion allowed, with an acoustic set. A true eclectic, he picked his way through many different styles, tentatively at first and then as the evening (and week) passed, with more confidence. Some standards, some flamenco and, in quick and inspired succession on the last night, curious tunes like "John Henry", "Cannonball Rag" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy": all as if to prove, probably to himself as much as anyone else, that he still has the touch. He has.
Breau is a guitarist first, a jazz musician second. Not a distant second though, particularly not with Thompson and Marty Morell joining him for the rest of each evening. The tunes were familiar, things like "Impressions" and "Perdido"; but Breau understandably began the week playing carefully, drawing his improvisation out of a wash of chords and just a suggestion of melody and working, in a roundabout way, towards a chorus or three of spectacular lines. Later on, he would play more spaciously, almost editing the thoughts that he might have had earlier and riding high, deliberately, and assuredly, on Thompson and Morell.
In the past, and of course on separate occasions, Thompson has been both Breau's bassist and drummer. (He's also pianist with another fine Canadian guitarist, Sonny Greenwich.) A very economical bassist, not at all flamboyant in this context, he was quick to follow the guitarist's shifts of mind and the empathy that the two once shared soon returned. Morell too had settled in by week's end, and although somewhat less sympathetic to Breau's discursive ways, his insistence held the trio together when inspiration very occasionally faltered.
So, Lenny Breau is back. For how long, who knows? The old confidence is coming and he's beginning to enjoy himself. The two years off have had their effect, but he still has the magic. It's White Magic, of course, starting to shine again.