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Jazz Reviews : Passion Fires Up Late at Shearing/Pass Concert

How does the old saying go? Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it. The George Shearing/Joe Pass concert at the Ambassador Auditorium on Thursday night was a vivid reminder of the fact that many of the jazz musicians in their generation once considered such concert hall performances to be virtual certification of artistic achievement.

But now that the goal has been won--now that performers like Shearing and Pass, Oscar Peterson and the Modern Jazz Quartet frequently appear in concerts wearing tuxedos and looking a bit uncomfortable--the obvious question is whether anything has been lost in the victory.

If the playing of Pass and Shearing on this particular night was any indication, the answer is yes, and the missing element is passion.

Joe Pass’ opening set was as precise and well-balanced as the clockwork of a Swiss watch. His tone was warm and romantic on “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “Beautiful Love”; he was briskly rhythmic on a free-floating blues, and “When You Wish Upon a Star” soared over a rich harmonic undercurrent.

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All very nice. But a little too polite; a little too unwilling to push the music past very routine, very unthreatening limits. Pass is too good a guitarist to restrict his music to such familiar frontiers.

Shearing, whose piano playing recently has revealed a masterful maturity, seemed willing to set it aside in favor of his entertainer’s persona, cracking more deadly puns than usual, easing comfortably into the role of the musical raconteur.

To his credit, he managed to come up with a few moments that stretched the limits of the evening’s polite presentation: three hard-swinging Charlie Parker tunes--"Dexterity,” “Donna Lee” and “Scrapple From the Apple"--as well as a refreshingly new prospective on Thelonious Monk’s “Ask Me Now.”

At the program’s end, Pass came out to join Shearing and bassist Neil Swainson in finally generating some real musical sparks. But it was too little and too late for a program that was high on appearances but far too low in musical accomplishments.

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