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Roy Clark and Joe Pass: Play Hank Williams

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No, your eyes aren't deceiving you—the title means what it says. Birdland comes to Hee Haw on this all-instrumental session, which features the country music icon mixing it up with the once-dominating master of jazz guitar (Oscar Peterson et Joe Pass à la Salle Pleyel, Pablo, 1975). From the perspective of a city boy, this combination might seem as likely as Ornette Coleman and Kenny G getting together to record the music of John Tesh. But trust many guitarists to know that "country players" like Hank Garland and Clark himself (The Lightning Fingers of Roy Clark, Razor and Tie, 1963) had sufficiently formidable chops to hold their own outside Opryland.

Originally released in 1995, the recording was the last by Pass who, moreover, supplied the idea of going with an all-Hank Williams program. Far from being a novelty date, it's a cooking, good-vibes session featuring two complementary musicians who had met for the first time just five minutes prior to rolling the tape. Yet the fusion of genres and styles is so satisfying and the playing so free-spirited that it's difficult to account for the neglect the recording has received compared to, for example, Bill Frisell's Nashville, the Down Beat critics' pick for #1 album of 1997.

The instrumentation on the tunes comprises solo guitar, guitar duos, guitar trios (with the inclusion of John Pisano's rhythm guitar), and a quintet (add bass and drums). Clark leads off on "Hey, Good Lookin' with three bright choruses, while Pisano strums quarter notes and Pass switches instantaneously and seamlessly from chordal accompaniment to walking bass lines to contrapuntal melodies while filling in the breaks between Clark's melody notes. Next, a Pass solo turn, then an out chorus traded back and forth between the pair. It's a wrap—first take, and without a hitch.

The full rhythm section doesn't come in until the fourth tune, with a Basie-like groove on "Cold, Cold Heart," followed by just the two principals on "Jumbalaya"—a hot and complexly-flavored stew stirred up by the simmering fury of the pair's collective improvisation. Even during the most polyphonic passages, there's no trouble identifying the players: in fact, if Clark's high-register twang—assisted by pick articulations, reverb and vibrato—begins to overshadow the muted, smooth-as-silk sound of Pass' guitar, simply nudge the balance control on your stereo to the left by a notch or two.

Remarkably, Pass' sophisticated chords and fluid and flawless melodic lines mesh perfectly with Clark's more basic harmonic and rhythmic language. The artistry and influence of Joe Pass is especially striking when witnessed on this video of the session. To see Clark leaning forward in his chair, staring at Pass' fingers during the latter's solo on "Blues for Hank," speaks volumes. And so does the post-session testimony by the entertainer who once personified country music: "It pushed me to my limits and took a lot out of me... but after it was over, I was so glad I did it." So are we, Roy.


Track Listing: Hey, Good Lookin'; Your Cheatin' Heart; Blues for Hank; Cold, Cold Heart; Jumbalaya (On the Bayou); Long Gone Lonesome Blues; Why Don't You Love Me; Honky Tonk Blues; I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive; Kaw-Liga

Personnel: Roy Clark: guitar; Joe Pass: guitar; John Pisano: rhythm guitar; Jim Hughart: bass; Colin Bailey: drums.

Title: Play Hank Williams | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: St. Clair Entertainment

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