Music Review: Oscar Peterson & Stephane Grappelli - Skol (Pablo 40th Anniversary Edition)

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The quintet on Skol is led by Oscar Peterson (piano), but for my money the violin of Stephane Grappelli and guitar of Joe Pass are just as important. The quintet is rounded out by bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, and drummer Mickey Roker. The occasion was a concert in Copenhagen, on July 6, 1979. As part of the ongoing 40th anniversary of Pablo Records, a remastered edition of Skol has just been released. This new Skol also includes three previously unreleased bonus tracks from the concert.

With such an all-star cast, it is really kind of silly to pick out certain members for individual praise. Still, there are solo moments on each track of this set that are mighty special, and worthy of special attention. As mentioned, this quintet is led by Peterson, who was just beyond the midpoint of what would prove to be a sixty-year career. Duke Ellington called him the "Maharajah of the Keyboard," and he certainly lives up to the praise with his performance here.

The rhythm section may not be as famous as the others in the band, but they are fantastic nonetheless. If you could not guess by the name, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen is indeed Danish, and functioned as something of a host for the group. His bass playing is terrific throughout, especially his first solo, which comes during "How About You?" Drummer Mickey Roker was fresh off a stint with Dizzy Gillespie, who said of him; "Once Mickey Roker sets a groove, whatever it is, you can go to Paris and come back and it's right there. You never have to worry about it."

The first edition of Skol was a six-song, single LP, released in late 1979. I bought it based on a review I read somewhere, mostly to hear Grappelli and Pass. I had just begun playing guitar, and knew that Grappelli had played with the legendary Django Rheinhardt, and Pass was known as one of the greatest living jazz guitar players. Skol had a built-in appeal to me right off the bat.

Contrary to my usual experience, buying the album based on a positive review turned out great. Not only was it an excellent concert, but (as I had hoped), I became a huge fan of both Pass and Grappelli. No slight intended on the talents of Peterson, or any of the others for that matter, but those two really appealed to me.

For this young listener, "Nuages" could not have been a more perfect opening track. The song was written by Django Rheinhardt, and is a brilliant showcase for Rheinhardt's former fellow member of The Quintet of the Hot Club of France; Stephane Grappelli. Rheinhardt only lived to be 43 years old, and passed away in 1953. On "Nuages," Joe Pass takes the Rheinhardt guitar parts, and this turned out to be my first opportunity to hear him. As I later learned, the styles of the two guitarists are very different, but that takes nothing away from Pass' performance. There is a reason he was considered one of the greatest jazz guitarists of the 20th century, as even a cursory listen to him here confirms.

The final track of the original album is "Skol Blues," which provides a perfect context for all five members of this group to shine. By the way, for anyone wondering what a "Skol" is, it is the Scandinavian term for "Celebration." The three bonus tracks included here are "Honeysuckle Rose," "Solitude," and "I Got Rhythm." All three are as strong as anything else recorded that night, only the time limitations of the vinyl format prevented them from being included back in 1979.

Pablo Records was formed in 1973 by jazz music impresario Norman Granz, and is in the midst of a yearlong 40th anniversary celebration. As part of this, they have chosen to reissue various Pablo classics, such as The Ellington Suites. I have always had a very personal relationship with Skol, as earlier described. It was one of the first jazz albums I ever bought, and set the bar rather high, as it turned out. I guess I am a little biased when it comes down to it, but that does not mean a thing. With an all-star cast like this, you can't really lose anyway. Skol is a great record for a number of reasons, and well worth checking out.