Joe Pass's Virtuoso (Pablo, 1974) was a milestone: not only was it a terrific CD, it was also the first solo jazz guitar record that was worth listening to all the way through. Pass melded the harmonic virtuosity of Art Tatum to a rock 'n' roll sensibility that appealed to fans of Coltrane and Hendrix alike. Of course, it spawned a series of like-minded recordings from the acknowledged guitar genius.
The 1988 recording Blues For Fred is a bit under the radar in that it doesn't feature Virtuoso in the title like much of the series, but it's no less appealing. Here Pass works through an album full of songs associated with Fred Astaire, who introduced more standards into the repertoire than virtually anyone else. Thus, any Astaire tribute will ultimately be exactly that: an album of standards. But this was in large part what Pass had been doing all along, and what made him such a great artist.
A five-minute version of "Cheek To Cheek" never loses its appeal because Pass can rework the melody in ways thought impossible on the guitar before he hit the scene, and there's plenty of walking bass and scale and arpeggio detours to keep things lively. The same holds true for the rest of the selectionsfamiliar standards (these were Fred's songs, after all) interpreted with grace and taste. Those who have heard Virtuoso will enjoy a different treatment of "Night and Day," a more subdued, lightly swinging approach that further demonstrates Pass's gifts.
While the novelty of Pass's skills had long worn off by now, the talent still remains. Virtuoso is still his crowning achievement, but Blues For Fred is of similar artistic merit.
1. Cheek To Cheek 2. By Myself 3. Night and Day 4. They Can't Take That Away From Me 5. Blues For Fred/They All Laughed 6. Dancing In the Dark 7. Oh Lady, Be Good 8. I Concentrate On You 9. A Foggy Day 10. The Way You Look Tonight 11. Tap Blues.
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