Various Artists – Pablo Records Original Jazz Classics (Concord Music Group) review
Five new titles explore the underrated Pablo jazz archives
Pablo Records was extremely important in the history of jazz. Formed in 1973 by jazz impresario Norman Granz, the label provided a home to several legendary artists who had been cast aside by the major record labels. Concord Records is celebrating the label’s 40th anniversary through a series of archival releases, many of which stand up to the finest in all of the genre.
The five new titles are:
Zoot Sims – and the Gershwin Brothers – The real gem of this series, this disc combines the swinging sax of Sims with an all-star backup band including Oscar Peterson on piano and Joe Pass on guitar. The combination of this stellar lineup and legendary material makes for a true classic. The melodies are immediately recognizable, but the performances are laid down with such vigor, you can’t help but get grabbed in.
Things start grooving right away with “The Man I Love,” propelled by a walking bassline from George Mraz, everything falls into place for a swinging good time. Things switch gears right away for the seductive “How Long Has This Been Going On,” which features just Sims and Pass for the first 60 seconds before everyone joins in. Peterson flies around the keys for “Oh Lady, Be Good!” while Pass lays down some incredibly tasty lines on “Embraceable You.”
What makes these performances work is that they never stray too far away from the classic melodies, but still give plenty of room for everyone involved to shine. The disc ends with a Latin-grooved “Summertime.” The original album is augmented by several bonus cuts, including “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” which is transformed into a smoky blues.
Art Tatum – Solo Masterpieces Volume One – These classic recordings actually predate Pablo Records by 20 years. But, after Granz formed the label, he sought to reacquire the rights to these legendary performances which he originally oversaw back in 1953. The tracks capture the legendary virtuoso live in the studio with just his piano. Most of the recordings were first takes, cementing his prowess as an artist bar none.
Tatum’s playing is the aural equivalent of trying to watch the wings of a hummingbird – it’s beautiful, just don’t try too hard to figure out how it’s done. As the liner notes state, one of the hurdles that prevented Tatum from wider popularity was that he made his almost-impossible piano work seem effortless. Instead of wildly flailing around like drummer Gene Krupa, Tatum preferred to play his instrument with surgeon-like precision.
While some of the best jazz can double as fine background music, the material on Solo Masterpieces is just too busy and requires your full attention. Tatum was a staggering figure in the history of jazz, yet just three years after these recordings, he would be gone.
Oscar Peterson & Stephane Grappelli – Skol – A perfect example of why Pablo Records was so important in the 1970’s – here was a quintet of some of the finest musicians of all-time: Peterson on piano, Grappelli on violin, along with equally great Joe Pass on guitar, Mickey Roker on drums, and Niels Henning Orsted-Pedersen on bass. Skol documents a concert that Granz put together in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1979.
The group runs through six tracks, five of them standards, and one – a jam made up for the evening called “Skol.” The disc kicks off with “Nuages,” a track that Grappelli first recorded when part of the Hot Club of France four decades earlier with partner Django Reinhardt. Here, it’s a chance for Pass, Peterson and Grappelli to showcase their talents individually. Grappelli’s violin, shrill sounding in the primitive 1930’s recording, gives off warm, deep tones, as it soars higher and higher.
Even though Peterson gets top billing, this is undeniably Grappelli’s show, made even more impressive when you figure that the violinist was 71 at the time of this performance. He may have been old, yet his solos are unbridled, barely contained in the music. Even on the gorgeous ballad, “That’s All,” Grappelli still shines.
The original disc is made that much greater by the inclusion of three bonus tracks. “Solitude” is slow and beautiful, while you better hold on to your hat with “I Got Rhythm” – things really get wild, with everyone soloing frenetically. —Tony Peters