Original Jazz Classics Remasters: Zoot Sims and the Gershwin Brothers, Oscar Peterson & Stephane Grappelli - Skol

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Tom Marcello

Oscar Peterson in 1977

As Concord Music Group continues its celebration of the 40th anniversary of Pablo Records, the jazz label founded in 1973 by Norman Granz, Oscar Peterson fans have two newly reissued albums to revisit. The first, released in 1975, finds the piano legend part of a quintet led by tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims. Zoot Sims and the Gershwin Brothers boasts explorations of 11 compositions by George and Ira Gershwin, augmented by two previously unreleased alternate takes (“Oh, Lady, Be Good!” and “I’ve Got a Crush on You”).

Besides Peterson’s keys, Sims is supported by Joe Pass (guitar), George Mraz (bass), and Grady Tate (drums). Granz produced the original June 6, 1975 session and the years have been kind. Joe Tarantino’s 24-bit remastering emphasizes the warm, welcoming sound originally captured by engineer Bob Simpson. In step with previous Original Jazz Classics Remasters, the simple CD booklet includes the original liner notes (by Benny Green) and a new essay by jazz journalist Doug Ramsey.

Ramsey shares a touching story from Sims’ widow Louise (told some years after her husband’s 1985 passing). On her way into the operating room for some kind of surgery, the anesthesiologist inquired about the personnel on the Gershwin Brothers album. It was either the most inopportune time for such a question (as she tried to answer, Louise admits she was out cold before she could speak) or a clever variation on the more traditional “count backwards from ten” while waiting for the anesthesia to kick in.

This is largely Sims’ show, with his big, boisterous tenor sound dominating the proceedings. “The Man I Love” kicks the album off in high style, affirming the straight-ahead, delectably melodic approach the group maintains throughout. No matter how many times you’ve heard it, by an endless array of artists, “I Got Rhythm” swings hard as the group stretches out. Peterson dazzles with lickety-split riffs. Using a bow for his solo, bassist Mraz contributes one of the record’s most memorable passages on “Summertime.”

OJC Skol (200x200).jpgSkol, recorded live at Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen on July 6, 1979, also features the guitar mastery of Joe Pass. In fact, his unaccompanied guitar intro on Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages” kicks off this extraordinary performance. The album was co-led by Peterson and violinist Stephane Grappelli. Both artists are in remarkable form for what was originally a six-tune album. This remaster adds renditions of three standards, “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Solitude,” and “I Got Rhythm.”

Look no further than Grappelli’s playful work on “Makin’ Whoopee” for a great example of the joy permeating these performances. Peterson’s own “Skol Blues” closed the original album, opening with marvelously grooving bass lines by Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen. If you’re not left slack-jawed by Grappelli’s solo on this blues barn-burner, I simply don’t know what to say. Mickey Roker’s drumming anchors the whole enterprise. Bonus cut “Honeysuckle Rose” highlights the off-kilter, good-humored approach this stunning quintet takes with all the material. A crowd-pleasing live jazz album from start to finish.

Skol sounds fantastic too, with sterling presentation by reissue producer Nick Phillips and mastering engineer Joe Tarantino. There’s almost nothing to Norman Granz’s scant original liner notes, but Granz biographer Tad Hershorn penned an excellent new essay for this essential reissue.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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