There’s a reason these guys have fronted countless recordings, even while appearing as first-call sidemen with everyone from Miles Davis to Steely Dan to Joni Mitchell.
Every time one of them picks up the guitar, it’s an encyclopedic wonder.
Not that you’d ever put them together: Larry Carlton, who eventually turned to smooth jazz, and Robben Ford, later a blues guy, would seem to have little in common. But on their third recent collaborative release — and Carlton’s first-ever acoustic album with Ford — is a definitive reminder about the old saw involving opposites and attraction.
Distinctive from one another, and yet completely in sync, Unplugged follows the similarly intuitive Live in Tokyo in 2007 and Paris Concert in 2008 — albums that followed Carlton’s own eventual turn toward harder-edged, blues-informed recordings like Sapphire Blue and Fire Wire. This stripped-down format, however, puts a still greater focus on their utter musical symbiosis.
Carlton, throughout, is in complete command of his instrument, playing with the gentle authority of his terrific 1986 effort Alone/But Never and then effortlessly ramping up into a muscular style familiar to anyone who loved “Kid Charlemagne” from a decade before. Meanwhile, Ford fits in so well, playing in and around Carlton’s lines, that the transitions are often seamless — as if orchestrated.
In keeping, the high points on Unplugged, out this week on 335 Records, tumble out with a metronomic regularity, from the itchy thump of “That Road” and the episodic, prog-influenced “Monty,” to the bluegrass pluck of “Amen AC” and the midnight-dark rumination of “I Put a Spell on You.”