Dizzy’s Big 4 by Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Pass, Ray Brown, Mickey Roker

November 27, 2013

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Legendary jazz producer and label owner Norman Granz formed Pablo Records during the early 1970s, just about a decade after he sold his Verve Label. One of the artists he quickly signed was trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie. They had collaborated on a number of projects in the past. Granz like to pair him with different musicians and record the results. He continued that approach by bringing Gillespie, bassist Ray Brown, guitarist Joe Pass, and drummer Mickey Roker into a Los Angeles record studio, September 17 and 19, 1974. The results were released as Dizzy’s Big 4, which has now been reissued with two bonus tracks as a part of the Concord Music Group’s Original Jazz Classics Remasters Series.

Guitarist Joe Pass appeared on a number of Pablo releases and his work was usually the glue that bonded the various musicians together and so it is here, especially since there is no keyboardist to fill in and carry the sound.

Three of the seven original tracks are Gillespie compositions. “Frelimo” begins the album on a light-hearted note as each musician establishes his territory in this eight minute offering. “Be Bop” is one of Gillespie’s best known compositions, which is highlighted by its complicated structures. He just carries the song along with solo bursts of his trumpet. “Birks’ Works” is a nearly nine minute stroll that allows each musician to solo.

Other highlights are “Hurry Home,” which is a show case for bassist Brown and “Russian Lullaby,” with a number of tempo changes and a sweet Pass solo on the original and the added bonus alternate take.

Dizzy’s Big 4 remains one of Gillespie’s better small group works. It brought together four different but talented musicians who all enjoyed long careers. They managed to produce an excellent piece of work that still sounds fresh four decades later.


Skol by Oscar Peterson and Stephane Grappelli

November 9, 2013

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Oscar Peterson was a giant of jazz. From the late 1940’s until his death in 2007, he produced a body of work that was not only of the highest quality due its improvisational nature but very approachable as he was more melodic than many of his contemporaries.

Stephane Grappelli’s first claim to fame came during the 1930’s when he was part of a quintet with legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt. He blended classical elements into his music as he paved the way for the violin to be recognized as a jazz instrument.

On July 6, 1979, pianist Peterson and violinist Grappelli took the stage at the Trivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark and the tape was running. They were joined by guitarist Joe Pass, bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pederson, and drummer Mickey Rokey. The results of the concert have now been re-released as a part of the ongoing Original Jazz Classics Remasters Series.  Skol has been enhanced with three previously unreleased bonus tracks.

One should be aware that the concert had two distinct parts. The first half featured Grappelli, Pass, and Pederson, while the second half added Peterson and Roker to the mix.

While all the musicians step forward to solo from time to time, it is Grappelli who is the star of the show.

The best track is a poignant rendition of Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages” with Peterson’s laid back solo followed by incredible work by Grappelli. “Skol Blues” is a rare jazz statement where a pianist and violinist play off of each other. “Makin’ Whoopee,” “Someone To Watch Over Me,” and “That’s All,” are vehicles for each instrumentalist to solo as Grappelli ties everything together.

The three bonus tracks from the concert are seeing the light of day for the first time. Duke Ellington’s “Solitude” has Peterson in the middle and Grappelli finishing. There is a laid back version of Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose.” In some ways it is guitarist Joe Pass who is the glue on many of the songs and nowhere is this more apparent then on “I Got Rhythm” where he not only provides a foundation but on his solo adds some bars from “Salt Peanuts.”

As with all the releases in the series the production and sound quality are impeccable. The enclosed booklet gives a nice overview of the concert and music.

Thirty-four years have passed since these artists took the stage together, yet the music retains its sheen. A must release for any jazz aficionado.


Easy Living by Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass

June 29, 2011

Easy Livingby Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass is one of six new reissues by The Concord Music Group in their ongoing Original Jazz Classics Remasters Series.

Ella Fitzgerald was considered an American icon by the time she passed away in 1996, after a nearly six decade career. She was considered one of the unique and innovative vocalists in jazz history and she sold tens of millions of albums during her the course of her career.

Joe Pass, 1929-1994, is sometimes a forgotten musician, but his innovative use of chord changes and phrasing would influence a generation of jazz guitarists. Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass came together during 1973 and over the next 13 years would record four studio albums together, and their label would release a number of live recordings. Pass and Fitzgerald would also form a relationship on stage as he would augment her basic trio upon occasion, plus they would perform as just a duo from time to time.

Fitzgerald recorded a number of albums with the piano as the primary melodic instrument, but it was her time as the foil for Pass’ guitar virtuosity that would push her into new vocal territory and challenge her to explore different styles and sounds.

Easy Living was released during 1986 and was their final studio album together. By this time they had settled into an easy going musical relationship. Pass would follow Fitzgerald’s vocal leads effortlessly. Her ability to change tone and even lyrics and Pass’ ability to not only follow her but to provide instrumental backing and balance speaks well for the quality of their relationship. The songs have a jam like feel at its most basic.

The 15 tracks from the original release are presented with a new clarity due to 24-bit remastering. New liner notes give a history of the album’s recording process. Also presented are the original liner notes by Benny Green. Two alternative takes are included as bonus tracks.

The material consists of pop classics from the Great American Songbook and some light jazz tunes, which were similar to most Ella Fitzgerald albums. Many of the songs are reinterpretations of numbers she had previously recorded in different settings.

This was the only time she recorded “My Ship,” written by Gershwin and Weill. It was a good song to lead off the album as it allowed Pass room to experiment with sounds, yet not interfere with Fitzgerald’s vocal. “My Man” was a signature Billie Holiday song although it was written during the early 1920s. Their take is more inventive as she bends the lyrics and phrasing to fit her style and Pass follows right behind.

She recorded “Moonlight In Vermont” a number of times but this sparse and simple rendition is unique and more satisfying. She first recorded “I’m Making Believe” with The Ink Spots in 1944 in a group setting. Now the song is stripped to basics. “On Green Dolphin Street” was originally recorded with strings but here it is just voice and guitar. And so it goes. All the tracks have a cohesive feel due to the Fitzgerald/Pass interaction.

It’s nice to have Easy Living back in a remastered form, as it is one of the unique combinations of not only their careers, but of jazz music as well.

Article first published as Music Review: Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass – Easy Living on Blogcritics.