York Theatre, May 31
Confession time. I know critics aren’t supposed to deal in the currency of expectations, but I’d half-envisioned being smoothed into a state of erasure by a Larry Carlton concert, or exhausted by the unrelenting good taste. More fool me. Yes, Carlton’s guitar playing was impeccably tasteful, but it also brimmed with energy, bonhomie and the blues.
For all his A-list credentials as a session player (including with Steely Dan, Michael Jackson and Joni Mitchell), Carlton is earthed by his deep roots in the blues. Add jazz harmony and an intuitive feel for funky rhythms, and you have a bald outline of why Carlton became a doyen of smooth jazz. Except that this outline does not make plain the colour of his contagious energy, warmth of sound and, above all, his touch.
Few guitarists can boast the dynamic control of Carlton’s right hand. Add his famed use of a volume pedal, and here was an electric guitar blessed with something nearer the dynamic range of a brass or percussion instrument.
He gave us an initial taste of this by playing solo, and then introduced his expert and ideal Australian collaborators: Phil Turcio (keyboard), Craig Newman (notably buoyant electric bass) and Gerry Pantazis (drums). They made for a band that was so supple it would bend in a light breeze, and that had any intricate arrangements absolutely nailed.
Not one to shy from pleasing his public, Carlton trotted out an instrumental version of Steely Dan’s Josie, and later reprised his solo from that band’s Kid Charlemagne, which features in those silly lists of rock’s greatest guitar solos. The material bubbled across jazz, funk, rock, ballads and shuffles, the highlight being the blue flame that he lit when playing at a whisper, as on the final encore, Sleepwalk.
Were one after profundities or emotional jolts, no, this was not the concert. But for slippery guitar, svelte accompaniment and exceptional sound quality it will surely have met his fans’ expectations.