Joe Pass: Virtuoso in New York (1975)
When it comes to bountiful vault holdings, few musicians can compare with the oeuvre established by guitarist Joe Pass. As the Pablo label's plectral staple his tape stacks rival and possibly even surpass those of Norman Granz's other resident factotum, Oscar Peterson. The steady crop of titles (one or two each year) that continue to find their way to circulation on disc gives the illusion that virtually ever note he ever picked in studio or on stage was captured by mics both covert and overt for posterity.
This latest set offers more of what's already available in abundance: Pass by his lonesome in the studio circa summer of '75, trusty hollow-body slung over shoulder, his mind primed to the task of doing what he did best. The disc's title dispenses with vagaries and skips right to the transparent. Pass was a virtuoso, a label I feel more than comfortable ascribing despite my somewhat checkered past with its usage. Over a three-quarter of an hour stretch he spins improvistory fantasias on a septet of chamois-polished standards, the solitary original blues thrown into the mix in two takes. True it's nothing too removed from the usual press of the Pass mold, but like his arguable pianistic counterpart Art Tatum, Pass could make the same old tunes shine under the close scrutiny of brilliant new hues and colors.
He's partially successful in the cause here. Ear-ringingly fast single notes vie with strummed chords in a performance that sounds as if at least one other guitarist is sitting in with the maestro. "A Ghost of a Chance" decelerates to a leisurely lope as Pass places attention on crafting gliding chords that orbit easily around the tune's cloying melody. The original "Blues for Alagarn" trades grace and gentility for a healthy dollop of fatback lard. Applying creative heat and grease to string of expressive choruses, Pass pops out bent notes like a hot kettle spouting billowy kernels of corn. He caps it off with a call and response coda of single notes and rhythmic strums redolent with reflexive humor.
The slightly shorter alternate of the tune which closes the program is packed with even more surprises. Here, Pass favors a sharper tone and crisper attack, playing a knuckle-cracking run in the middle that never jumbles or stumbles in its precise note placement. "The Way You Look Tonight" registers a finger-speed record with cheetah-paced middle and later choruses that could easily give Johnny Griffin's various breakneck versions a run for their money. An equally dazzling spin through Kurt Weill's "Moritat" puts more serious friction to Pass's calluses. Both tunes are among the handful of other suspects that receive demiurgic recastings.
Considering the track record, there's little doubt that another Pass pearl from the Pablo vault will be down the pike directly. In the meantime there's this aptly titled repast to tide our appetites over. Sometimes more of the same can be a mighty agreeable thing.
Track Listing: I Never Knew (That Roses Grew)/ (I Don't Stand) A Ghost of a Chance (With You)/ We'll Be Together Again/ Blues for Alagarn/ The Way You Look Tonight/ How Long Has This Been Going On?/ Moritat/ When Your Lover Has Gone/ Blues for Alagarn (take 1).
Personnel: Joe Pass- guitar. Recorded: June 5 & 6, 1975, NYC.