As part of their 40th anniversary this year, Pablo Records are reissuing some classic titles under the Original Jazz Classics banner. The OJC series has been going for a while now, and for jazz fans, it is practically the gold standard. The tapes have been meticulously remastered, bonus tracks are almost always included, and new liner notes have been commissioned. All of this is done in the spirit of the original though, as the cover art and original liner notes have been retained as well. All of this is to say that I have never been disappointed by any of these sets.
There is something else as well. Although they are not billed as such, many of these Pablo albums are all-star sessions, in all but name alone. The new OJC release of Zoot Sims and The Gershwin Brothers is a prime example. Obviously this outing stars the great tenor sax of Zoot Sims, playing the songs of the Brothers Gershwin. But for "back-up," Sims is joined by Oscar Peterson (piano), and Joe Pass (guitar). These are two very well-known bandleaders in their own right, and to hear them with Sims on these songs is something special indeed. The Sims quintet is rounded out by George Mraz (bass) and Grady Tate (drums), who are no slouches either.
It is the combination of the three soloists that add so much to this set though. The tenor sax of Sims is incredibly powerful, and we know who it is from the opening notes of "The Man I Love." His style is so bright and strong that it is the perfect vehicle for this music. In fact, this would be a great record even if he were the only soloist. But with the addition of Pass and Peterson, this set becomes something else altogether. It first becomes apparent during "The Man I Love," but give a listen to "S Wonderful" and you will really hear it.
The song starts out with an introduction from Peterson's piano, then Sims' sax takes the lead, and we hear Pass playing rhythm along with the bass and drums. It is an amazing sound, although this being five musicians playing at the top of their game, don't get too comfortable. The energetic solo that Pass takes at about the 2:20 mark is one of the best on the record, and is answered by Peterson right afterwards. When Sims comes back to close the song, it truly is the sound of three masters not only showing us how it is done, but having a ball in the process.
There are many brilliant solo moments from all three throughout this album. A particular favorite from Pass is the opening of "I Got Rhythm." The arrangement of this famously upbeat song is the key, as Sims has toned it down and made it into a showcase for everyone. His exploration of the deeper registers of his sax are refreshing, and also a bit of a red herring. Before you know it, we are in to the well-known swing of the tune, where a close listen to the bass of Mr. Mraz will pay off in a big way. Peterson waited for this second half of the tune to strut his stuff, and he really gets down. What a great tune.
The original Pablo edition of the album contained ten tracks, and closed with "Summertime." The drums of Grady Tate open it, and his impressive intro opens the door for another very bright appearance by Sims. George Mraz gets his in after another tasty Joe Pass solo turn, using a bow on his stand-up bass to excellent effect. After Peterson's nod to old-school boogie-woogie during his piano solo, Sims takes the song home with one of his most unusual solos of the entire set.
As mentioned, these OJC titles generally include bonus tracks, and there are three here. The first is "They Can't Take That Away From Me," which for some reason did not make it on to the record. I have no idea why, unless they just wanted to keep the album at an even ten tunes, because it works perfectly. The remaining two extras are alternate takes of "Oh Lady, Be Good!" and "I've Got a Crush on You," both of which are as good as the ones that made the final cut.
Zoot Sims and The Gershwin Brothers was recorded in June 1975, and the quintet were in top form. Not that they needed to, but they sure stacked the deck by choosing to record songs by these 20th century musical masters. They made a memorable album, without question.
In glancing through Amazon's new 100 Albums for $5 promotion, I was pleasantly surprised to see Zoot Sims and The Gershwin Brothers listed among the various CDs. This is a pretty great price, and would make for a fine gift for just about anybody - including yourself.