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Music Review: Joe Pass – Virtuoso

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With the release of Virtuoso in 1974, Joe Pass became an “overnight” sensation, even though his first LP had been released way back in 1961. It was titled The Sounds Of Synanon, for the drug rehab center he was enrolled in at the time. The various other players who made up his band were Synanon patients as well. Synanon attracted widespread acclaim from Pass’ peers, but it took Virtuoso for him to break through to a wide audience.

The thirteen years between the two records were filled with a number of quality albums, including tributes to Django Reinhardt, and even The Rolling Stones. But Pass had never recorded as a solo before Virtuoso, and the sound of him playing unaccompanied was a revelation. Only one of the twelve songs that appear on Virtuoso is a Pass original, the rest are his interpretations of classics.

Cole Porter’s “Night And Day” is the lead track, and contains some of the key elements that make this such a fine record. Pass’ way of accompanying himself by playing melodies off of the chords simultaneously is stunning. And the clear sound of his playing is singular as well. His ability to to engage in furious fret-board runs is spotlighted on the very next track, “Stella By Starlight.”

Joe Pass is often compared to Charlie Parker, and his recording of “Cherokee,” provides ample evidence as to why. His guitar matches the ferocity of the Parker version note for note. A couple of other high octane performances are contained on “Round Midnight,” and “All The Things You Are.”

Joe Pass’ original tune “Blues For Alican” is the only blues cut to appear on the album. It is obvious that Pass was a fan of a contemporary guitar virtuoso, John Fahey. Although it is never explicitly stated, his style of playing on the song is clearly a tribute to a talented peer. “Blues For Alican” could have easily been a lost track from Blind Joe Death, or The Voice Of The Turtle.

Virtuoso concludes with Jerome Kern’s “The Song Is You.” On it, Joe Pass shows off all the qualities that made him such a legend. Changing keys on the fly, furious picking, and the patented chord and melody played-in-tandem style add up to a truly virtuoso performance.

Virtuoso is part of the latest Original Jazz Classic 24-Bit Remasters series, and has never sounded better. No matter what the quality of your stereo is though, the guitar playing of Joe Pass is virtually unmatched. I could not think of a better title than Virtuoso for this one.

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About Greg Barbrick

  • Peter

    A fan of John Fahey!! How inane and nearly blasphemous. Jon Fahey is not qualified to carry Joe’s case.

  • nice post..very usefull.. i love music 🙂

  • Greg Barbrick


    I know what you mean, but I think it was worth it for him though as he had been toiling in obscurity for far too long. As for Synanon, the only in-print version I know of is an import. It is a little pricey, which is what has held me back so far. But my scratchy vinyl copy is getting mighty old.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Nice Review…

    “but it took Virtuoso for him to break through to a wide audience.”

    Yea.. it took a “Dumbing Down” of his brilliance as a musician with him covering other artists material for people to “get it”.

    Granted, I appreciate this stuff, the live album with his trio @ Dante’s just kills this. They way they interact and still leave him in the spotlight is truly phenomenal! I gotta find that “The Sounds of Synanon” CD…

  • Greg Barbrick

    Thank you Kit. It really is a great jazz guitar recording.

  • Nice review, Greg! Joe Pass is an artist I’ve been meaning to check out for some time, and of course I’ve heard of this album for a while. Will definitely pick this up!