There’s a popular, if somewhat misguided tendency amongst critical circles to rank musicians by relating them to those who have come before. Specific attention to the standing each one holds in relation to his or her peers in the areas of prowess, impact and artistic originality are just some of the prime determinants. Norman Granz is guilty of it in his liner notes to this release, where he places Joe Pass atop a pedestal on par with Charlie Christian. Ultimately Pass’ proximity or distance to this founding father of jazz guitar is irrelevant and in actuality impossible to prove objectively, but it makes for good copy. What stand up far conclusively to scrutiny are the slabs of music, like those contained on this set, which demonstrate irrefutably that the man could play.
Leading a trio with longtime associates Hughart and Severino in tow, Pass cycles thoughtfully through a program of pop and jazz standards tempered with a stray original or two. Lightly amplified strings sing smoothly within the warm supportive surroundings of the trio on the jaunty “Look What They Done to My Song, Ma.” Hughart takes full advantage of the bulbous sonics of his axe running up down the frets and loosing broad backed walking bass lines. Severino’s sticks favor judicious patter and tempo-shaping restraint for much of the first disc, but the feeling of stalwart muscularity bleeds through certain moments of his more religious time keeping.
Pass, emancipated from the requirements of harmony and rhythm requisite of his much touted solo outings of the Seventies, funnels the found freedom through his facile plectrum. Churning out nimble phrases on tracks like “You Stepped Out of a Dream” across a buoyant elocutionary backdrop he seems to positively thrive in the easy going, but no less creatively charged environment. Hughart’s taffy-like tone both compliments and contrasts the guitarist’s less cumbersome sound, caulking the cracks with viscous gobs of harmonic glue. Severino adds to the sound floor in substantial ways as well, making use of a specially designed drum on occasion that sounds like a cross between a tom tom and a trampoline. On the second disc he seems to play with a bit more gusto and Pass responds in kind particularly on the opening gallop of “Stompin’ at the Savoy.” Suggesting the importance of his solo esthetic even in ensemble settings such as this one Pass also opts for a handful of solitary excursions.
From what Pass describes in his portion of the liners the gig at Donte’s was a regular one and the pair of nights preserved on this set illustrate why the management was so amenable to the arrangement. Pass remains self-effacing in his appraisal of much of the music, but his modesty only corroberates the value of the document he left behind. Fans of jazz guitar will certainly find Pass’ fine-tuned fretwork on this set to their liking.
Personnel: Joe Pass- guitar; Jim Hughart- Fender bass; Frank Severino- drums. Recorded: December 8-9, 1974, Los Angeles, CA.