Norman Granz' Jazz In Montreux Presents: Joe Pass '75

John Kelman By

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Joe Pass
Norman Granz' Jazz In Montreux Presents: Joe Pass '75
Eagle Eye Media
2006 (1975)

It's not often you get a second chance in life, but the late guitarist Joe Pass was one of the fortunate few. After starting out playing in big bands like Charlie Barnet's in the 1940s, Pass' drug addiction and resulting jail sentence kept him off the scene for a decade until 1962, when he returned with a series of recordings for Pacific Jazz. For Django (Pacific Jazz, 1964) was especially momentous, and Pass began to receive greater recognition as an innovative mainstream guitarist whose clear roots in Charlie Christian brought a fresh perspective to music associated with the legendary Django Reinhardt.

But it wasn't until 1973, when Pass signed up with impresario Norman Granz' Pablo label and released Virtuoso—the first in a series of landmark solo guitar recordings—that he began to garner more widespread acclaim. Unlike Lenny Breau, whose ability to sound like two—sometimes three—guitarists at once was equally memorable, Pass was a master of implication. He could play a series of chord changes and then depart for a dazzling flurry of single notes, but somehow you still heard those changes in your head. Or he might shift seamlessly between chords, faux-bass runs and higher register melodies, but taken together they created a sense of the whole song that was remarkable.

Pass would go on to record dozens of records for Pablo until his death from cancer in 1994 at the all-too-young age of 65. His group recordings and collaborations with other legends including pianist Oscar Peterson, singer Ella Fitzgerald and vibraphonist Milt Jackson were almost uniformly superb, but it was his solo recordings that would ultimately carve a place for Pass in jazz history.

Part of the Norman Granz' Jazz In Montreux series, Joe Pass '75 catches Pass in his ascendancy. Comprised of two sets on two consecutive nights in July, 1975, Pass' unerring ability to create a more complete sonic world through masterful implication is in full force. Whether it's Luis Bonfa's "Mahna De Carnaval, Reinhardt's classic "Nuages, Pass's own "Joe's Blues or more contemporary fare like Stevie Wonder's "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life, Pass creates a common thread of improvisational flare throughout.

Pass also knows how to sequence a set, with an ebb and flow that, on both nights, starts slowly and builds to a more rousing finale each night ("Montreux Changes, "Montreux Changes Too ) that's pure improv. Keith Jarrett he wasn't, but Pass had his own approach to pulling music out of the ether that was—and remains—in a space all its own.

For guitarists the DVD is a delight—a chance to watch Pass close-up and gain insight into just how he did what he did. For those who don't play, the camerawork is interesting enough to make it a thoroughly engaging watch and, with PCM Stereo, DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound options, a rich listen. Unfortunately, throughout the first set, his amplifier appears to be getting moved and there is the occasional crackle of his reverb, but there's no way that could be cleaned up, and it doesn't detract from the enjoyment of the set.

Those who prefer more edge to their jazz might find Pass too mainstream for their taste. But Pass was a true master of the guitar, and whether or not lessons learned are used in pursuit of more contemporary styles, the fact is there are lessons to be learned.

Personnel: Joe Pass: guitar.

Tracks: More Than You Know; It's A Wonderful World; Mahna De Carnaval; Joe's Blues; Nuages; Blues; I'm Glad There Is You; Willow Weep For Me; Montreux Changes; Summertime; You Are The Sunshine Of My Life; The Very Thought Of You; Blues For Nina; Li'l Darlin'; How Long Has This Been Going On; Montreux Changes Too.

Approximate Running Time: 79 Minutes
Recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival, July 17-18, 1975.

Extra Features: Portrait of Norman Granz narrated by Nat Hentoff; Drawings by David Stone Martin; Pictures by Georges Braunschweig.

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