Virtuoso (OJC Remaster)
“I’m not trying to be the best guitar player in the world,” Joe Pass once told an interviewer, which leads one to wonder just what we’re hearing on Virtuoso if not the best guitar player in the world. Recorded in one sitting in late August 1973, the wholly unaccompanied Virtuoso was the first of four solo guitar outings in a series for Norman Granz’s Pablo label—Pass’ home base for the bulk of his recording career.
With a rich, woody acoustic tone, Pass takes ownership of some of the greatest standards in the jazz canon, remaking them into beautifully free but deeply coherent mini-symphonies, one after another, with the casual vibe of someone reading a book at the beach. In guitar parlance it’s the chord-melody approach: You play the melody but also chords at the same time—basslines, too, if you can—and pretty soon, in the hands of a master, the guitar sounds like a 15-piece big band, or perhaps the most whisperingly intimate thing ever. Pass could do all of that.
He was not the first or only solo guitarist by any stretch, but his achievements in the idiom stand apart. The zero-to-60 bebop lines, surprise key changes, and almost accidentally picture-perfect endings; the flawlessly swinging chord passages that could sound like an entire reed section; the out-of-tempo ruminations and on-the-spot orchestration and counterpoint, all of it revealing bone-deep song knowledge and musical insight: Pass had his bag of tricks, but he mixed it up every time and hit on fresh discoveries, even or especially on heavily trafficked material like “How High the Moon,” “Stella By Starlight,” and “Cherokee.”