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Virtuoso is a sensational album of jazz guitar.

Music Review: Joe Pass – Virtuoso

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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