During the ‘60s, two different phenomena were at play as part of a vibrant jazz scene. On the one hand, there had never before been the sheer number of record releases that marked this thriving period. Still, it seemed that certain artists held a stronghold on the public’s attention. In much the same way that John Coltrane cast a shadow over many a tenor saxophonist during the aforementioned decade, Wes Montgomery did the same for the guitar and the implications of his advancements continue to reverberate.
Digging deeper always reveals artists who somehow became eclipsed by more established players. While Joe Pass enjoyed a good deal of critical and public acceptance during the latter part of his career, he and many other guitarists were clearly overshadowed by Montgomery and the commercial appeal of his Verve and CTI recordings. Born in New Jersey, Pass was already 31 years old when he decided to head to the West Coast, a fortuitous decision that ultimately landed him a deal with producer Dick Bock. Following session gigs with Richard “Groove” Holmes, Gerald Wilson, Clifford Scott, Bud Shank, and Les McCann, Pass had duly impressed Bock enough that he soon would be recording his first sets as a leader for Pacific Jazz.
For over a decade prior to his death in 1994, Pass had recorded so frequently (especially for the Pablo label) that his many talents were largely taken for granted. It didn’t help that his Pacific Jazz albums were very difficult to find and only a few had been reissued in Japan on compact disc. For this reason alone, guitar fans owe it to themselves to reexamine the history of jazz guitar in light of some of the masterful sides included in Mosaic’s new compilation, The Complete Pacific Jazz Joe Pass Quartet Sessions. Recorded in 1963 and 1964, this five-disc set includes the original albums Catch Me, For Django, Joy Spring, and 12-String Guitar Movie Themes. In addition, we get two Les McCann dates that feature Pass at length and a good deal of previously unreleased tracks.
Catch Me and For Django
If one had to narrow down the choicest Pass releases for taking on that proverbial desert island, it would be easy to settle on Catch Me and For Django. In fact, very little of the guitarist’s subsequent work even decades later seemed to approach or surpass these early landmarks. An esteemed L.A. rhythm section is brought together for Catch Me, including pianist Clare Fischer, bassist Ralph Pena, and drummer Larry Bunker. No less than eight previously unissued tracks augment what was already a splendid album. Pass is fluid and filled with creative ideas that Fischer compliments so very well. As an added bonus, Pass’ sensitive acoustic guitar work is agreeably featured on “But Beautiful,” “Deep Purple,” “Tangerine,” and “There Will Never Be Another You.”
The best that one can say about a tribute album is that it does justice to the artist being remembered while allowing the performers an opportunity to speak with their own voice. Even though the majority of the numbers are associated with gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, For Django does indeed sound like a Pass album at heart, an unadorned quartet format further reinforcing the individuality. Two alternates and one previously unreleased side round out the fireworks.
On Time and Soul Hits
With vault research yielding some unreleased material featuring Pass and pianist Les McCann, the decision was made for this Mosaic set to also include two released McCann albums which also have the guitarist as part of the mix. While On Time is more expansive with such McCann classics as “Fondue” and “Free at Pass...Thank God Almighty...Free at Pass,” Soul Hits is exactly as its title proclaims and includes briefer performances. What’s interesting about the latter set is just how McCann and Pass get into the meat of such pieces as “Back at the Chicken Shack,” “Sack O’ Woe,” and many others to speak in funky overtones. While this was part and parcel of the pianist’s contemporary style, the resourceful Pass gives us a different view of his musical persona that hadn’t been exposed prior. An entire five-song session with Pass and McCann is also heard here for the first time ever.
Joy Spring, 12-String Guitar Movie Themes, etc.
Of the remaining material, we get another classic and a curious oddity. A session from 1964 featuring pianist Mike Wofford, bassist Jim Hughart, and drummer Colin Bailey was kept in the can before seeing release sometime in the early ‘80s. Joy Spring would then make its bow as a CD reissue, only to be quickly deleted. Available again, this spirited quartet in the tradition of Catch Me sails through some respected standards and four previously unissued cuts are included.
Although much of the material that Richard Bock produced fell into the category of mainstream jazz created without gimmick or concept, 12-String Guitar Movie Themes was the rare exception. Pass performs on his acoustic 12-string with simple backing provided by rhythm guitarist John Pisano, bassist Charlie Haden (!), and drummer Larry Bunker. Although “Call Me Irresponsible,” “More,” and “Lawrence of Arabia” might not offer the best structures for substantial jazz performances, Pass’ virtuosity is at a premium and all but the most disparaging curmudgeons will take away a smile.
Of the remaining material that has yet to see the light of day, you’ll come across four quartet tracks with a country twang as influenced by a film biography of the time based on the life of Hank Williams. Another five from an additional session in the summer of 1964 find Bill Perkins joining the quartet. Nothing all that dramatic occurs across the board, but one shouldn’t complain about further chances to hear Pass’ musical intellect. In a limited edition of 5000 copies, this five-disc set includes a 12-page booklet with notes by Kirk Silsbee, 24-bit remastering by Malcolm Addey, and many vintage photos by Fred Seligo, Francis Wolff, Ray Avery, and Woody Woodward. The majority of the music here has never been heard before on compact disc and fans of jazz guitar will be more than rewarded by this look at a neglected portion of Pass’ early career. All recordings are available solely through Mosaic Records; 35 Melrose Place; Stamford, CT. 06902; (203) 327-7111. Check their website at www.mosaicrecords.com for more information or to place an order.
Personnel: Joe Pass (guitar, acoustic guitar); John Pisano (rhythm guitar); Bill Perkins (tenor sax, baritone sax & flute); Clare Fischer (piano & organ); Les McCann, Frank Strazzeri, Mike Wofford (piano); Ralph Pena, Albert Stinson, Leroy Vinnegar, Herbie Lewis, Paul Chambers, Charlie Haden, Jim Hughart (bass); Larry Bunker, Colin Bailey, Ron Jefferson, Paul Humphrey (drums)