Skol, another of the fine Pablo Records reissues in Concord Music Group’s Original Jazz Classics Remasters series, is a portion of a 1979 Tivoli Gardens all-star quintet concert that featured jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli. If Grappelli, who had made a name for himself with the Django Reinhardt Quintette du Hot Club wasn’t enough, the quintet had Oscar Peterson, the man many saw as the heir to Art Tatum, on piano and virtuoso guitarist Joe Pass as well. Add Danish bass phenomenon Niels-Henning Ǿrsted Pedersen and drummer Mickey Roker (who had worked with Dizzy Gillespie), and you’ve got an ensemble likely to shine. And shine they do.
The album begins with probably the best known piece from the Django Reinhardt songbook, “Nuages.” Pass, Grappelli, and Peterson all take long solos at the start, almost as though they are introducing themselves and marking their territory. A couple of standards, “How About You” and “Someone to Watch Over Me,” give Grappelli the chance to show some of his different sides, while Peterson, Pass, and Pedersen follow his lead with dynamic solos. “Makin’ Whoopee,” a tune associated with Eddie Cantor, is something of a romp with a little blues vibe and some patented work from all the soloists. The original set closes with “That’s All,” a quiet ballad that leads to “Skol Blues,” a Peterson original composition. This last would have sent concert goers home with memories of the pianist’s famous flying fingers. It is vintage Peterson and the rest of the quintet comes along for the ride.
As with most of the albums in this series, Skol not only includes the tunes from the original release but supplemental material as well. In this case there are three previously unreleased pieces, beginning with a joyful look at the Fats Waller classic “Honeysuckle Rose” and some swinging solo work from Grappelli, Pass, and Peterson. This is followed by Duke Ellington’s “Solitude,” where Grappelli handles the melody with a soulful touch. Finally, there’s a really jumping take on “I’ve Got Rhythm” with the whole quintet working it out.
There are times when you put together an all-star group and what you come up with is disappointing. Not all great musicians work well together, or at least not as well as you might hope. Perhaps, the collection of great names creates impossible expectations in the audience. Perhaps some great artists are too much the individualist who finds it difficult to lose his own voice in that of the larger group. Whatever the reason, such all-star combinations don’t always jell. Not the case with Grappelli, Peterson, and Pass: they play like they belong together.