Monday, November 18, 2013

U DIG IT?: Joe Simmons digitizes Joe Pass's 1973 recording Virtuoso #4

The James R. and Susan Neumann Jazz Collection presents

the neUmann DIGITization project
Beginning in fall 2013, we're giving interested students the chance to choose an LP to digitize from the ca. 50,000 jazz-related recordings currently in the Neumann Jazz Collection and then to answer a few brief questions about their experience.  If you'd like to be a part of the project, you can find out more information here. Today our post is by Joe Simmons (OC '15), who chose the 1973 album Virtuoso #4 by Joe Pass (Pablo Live 2640-102.]

Why in general did you want to be a part of this project?
I have been working on archiving, cataloging, and digitizing Oberlin Alumnus Jim Neumann's immense collection of jazz recordings and artifacts for the past year and a half. This has given me direct exposure to the history of the music I study in a way that few people have the privilege to do. As such, I applaud Matt Segall's efforts to make this extraordinary collection more accessible to the students of Oberlin College and Conservatory. Although I frequently digitize vinyl records as part of my job, I decided I would like to add my voice to the conversation Matt started and comment on what these recordings mean to me.

Why did you choose this particular record?
I chose to digitize and comment on the first two sides of Joe Pass' Virtuoso #4. Although this particular recording session is available digitally, it consists of outtakes that were not included in the first three of the "Virtuoso" series. As a guitarist, it's difficult to pass up a chance to listen to a Joe Pass record on vinyl that you haven't heard.

How was this experience different from simply locating an existing digital version of the LP on YouTube or Spotify?
I think there is something really special about hearing a great record on vinyl pressed 30 years ago, still in pristine condition. People may argue on either side whether the sound quality of vinyl is noticeably better, but there's no denying that it's a different listening experience altogether. Ultimately of course, the purpose of digitization is to preserve the music in a format that never "goes bad" (vinyl slowly degrades with time and multiple listenings), and to make it more accessible to listeners on campus. Still, I highly recommend taking this opportunity to experience this collection first hand.

What musically stood out to you as you listened to the recording?
This particular recording offers an interesting view into who Joe Pass was as a musician. All but one track (“Indian Summer”) are played on acoustic guitar rather than electric arch-top (though Norman
Granz incorrectly states that every track is acoustic in his liner notes). I wasn't too sure that I liked this choice at first; the sound is much rawer and harsher than I tend to prefer for jazz guitar. The sound of the pick and the string-scratching during shifts is audible and I found it kind of distracting. In fact, the first track "Lush life" left me with the impression that Joe Pass isn't nearly as at home playing acoustic. However, as I continued to listen, I became much more engaged. Listen for his use of "guitaristic" techniques: blistering single-note lines interspersed with double stops, chordal passages, counterpoint, and slurs among others. Joe plays the guitar as a convincing solo instrument, combining sonic textures and rhythmic/harmonic effects in much the same way that a solo violinist playing a composed work would.

Still, there are moments when the illusion is broken; I occasionally noticed slightly-too-long pauses where Joe Pass searches for the right chord, a little too awkward to be construed as an artistic choice. However, in these moments, I find myself in awe at the realization that these beautiful renditions of standards are probably in fact completely improvised. These pieces are a true reflection of his talent, instincts, and immense knowledge and command of the guitar. Listen for his use of the range of the entire instrument, as well as the way he marks different sections of his improvisations to avoid monotony. Also, take note of his rubato interpretation of some pieces (particularly the first few on side a) versus others clearly rooted in the swing tradition (as in "Come Rain or Come Shine" and "My Shining Hour").

I found the last track on side b, "Someday My Prince Will Come" to be his most artful rendition of any standard on this 2 disc set. He tastefully combines the techniques heard thus far, but the transitions are flawless and the ending is satisfying and appropriate in context with the rest of the piece. After listening to Virtuoso #4 in its entirety, I still prefer Joe Pass on an electric arch-top guitar over acoustic, but this album demonstrates that a tasteful artist can shine on almost any instrument.

Can other students listen to the LP now that it’s been digitized?
Yes, just click here and, when prompted, enter your ObieID and password.  If you’re off campus, you’ll need to authenticate using Oberlin’s VPN.