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Review: Pablo 40th Anniversary Series with Gillespie, Ellington, Tatum, Peterson, Grappelli and Sims

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Pablo Reissues

When impresario Norman Granz founded the Pablo label in 1973, fusion, funk and Latin sounds were at the forefront of jazz.  Granz, founder of the Verve, Norgran and Clef labels, initially launched Pablo as a platform for his management clients Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson and Joe Pass, but soon its roster was filled out with the equally starry likes of Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Sarah Vaughan.  Granz’ new label was an instant success and a safe haven for traditional jazz in this period of rapid musical change.  Pablo’s very first LP – Oscar Peterson, Joe Pass and NielsHenning Ørsted Pedersen’s The Trio – even netted a Grammy Award.  To celebrate Pablo’s fortieth anniversary, Concord Music Group has reissued five classic titles from its catalogue.  Three albums feature guitarist Pass, two in collaboration with pianist Peterson and one with bassist Pedersen.  The fourth and fifth – archival showcases for the legendary Art Tatum and Duke Ellington – were recorded in the 1950s but released on Pablo in the 1970s.  Best of all, all titles have been remastered, and all save the Tatum premiere previously unreleased bonus material.

Before Dave Brubeck, before Bill Evans, before Bud Powell, there was Art Tatum.  Though inspired by the stride piano style (in which, generally speaking, the left hand plays a four-beat pulse with a single bass note, octave, seventh or tenth interval on the first and third beats, and a chord on the second and fourth beats) of Fats Waller as well as by Earl “Fatha” Hines, Tatum made the instrument his own, and is frequently recognized today as the greatest jazz pianist of all time.  There’s ample evidence why on the first volume of Pablo’s Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces (OJC-CD-34620-02).

Almost every one of the sixteen songs on this introductory volume – recorded in 1953 and 1955 – is a standard, but Tatum’s boundless imagination for improvisation renders nothing at all “standard” about them.  69 Solo Masterpieces performances were recorded over two days in 1953; more sessions commenced in April 1954 and concluded in January 1955, yielding a total of 125 masters.  On November 5, 1956, Tatum was gone, a victim of kidney failure.  The tracks were originally issued on Granz’s Clef label as boxed sets and 13 individual albums.  When Pablo was founded in 1973, one order of business was to reissue these seminal recordings.  The newly-remastered Volume One combines the first and ninth original Pablo LPs onto one disc.

Tad Hershorn’s new liner notes explore the theory that Tatum may have made it all look too easy, which might explain why he never achieved international stardom during his all-too-short lifetime.  Indeed, the notes recount producer Granz bringing Pabst Blue Ribbon and a portable radio tuned to the UCLA basketball game to get Tatum in the mood for the sessions.  Though the results sound far from tossed-off, the fact of the matter seems to be that the inventive improvisations heard here did come naturally to Tatum.  There’s a bounce and a carefree verve to these tracks – even unlikely ones such as Cole Porter’s 1930 “Love for Sale,” originally a streetwalker’s lament.  Tatum puts the soul into “Body and Soul,” lightly swings “My Love Affair,” and embellishes “There’s Only a Paper Moon” with a barrage of zesty notes that enliven Harold Arlen’s sweet melody.  Though he transformed the style with elegance, muscularity and musical wit, the stride technique admired by Tatum is still very much present throughout.  Tatum even takes on two compositions by another renowned pianist, Duke Ellington (“Just A-Sittin’ and A-Rockin’” and “Sophisticated Lady”) with aplomb.

Though this is very much an exuberant set, Tatum also has a way with a ballad.  As he dissects the melody of Rodgers and Hart’s “Have You Met Miss Jones,” interpreting it in various styles, it’s impossible to say what Rodgers would have thought.  Though the famed composer was a notorious stickler for playing the notes as written, Tatum’s virtuosity is undeniable.  “Stay as Sweet as You Are” has a romantic feel, while Tatum is surprisingly dark on “Willow Weep for Me.”  The title of one of these Solo Masterpieces, “Too Marvelous for Words,” could certainly describe Tatum’s animated instrumental performances!

After the jump, we’ll explore titles from Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson, Stephane Grappelli, Zoot Sims and others! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 7, 2013 at 10:21