NORMAN GRANZ, sometimes referred to as "the Sol Hurok of Jazz," records music for the fun of it --would never make it into recording studios if he didn't put them there.
He founded Clef Records, later known as Verve, in the late '40s.After selling that firm in the '60s, he stopped making records for several years. Then he started Pablo Records in 1973 and once again began a parade of Granz favorites through the studios -- Oscar Peterson, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie.
Now Granz has gone himself one better. He's just started a subsidiary line, Pablo Live, devoted only to inconcert recordings. For him to put so much emphasis on live recordings is not surprising. It was Granz who started the concept of staging a jam session in a concert hall. He called it "Jazz at the Philharmonic (J.A.T.P.)" --these events sold well all over the world.
One of the first records in the Pablo Live series is J.A.T.P. in Tokyo --(Pablo Live 2620 104), a three-record set made in 1953, a time when J.A.T.P. was at the height of its popularity.
The album features an all-star cast --Benny Carter, Ben Webster, Gene Krupa, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson and others.
Much of the music holds up well after almost 24 years despite the circus atmosphere J.A.T.P. often took on. The ballad medley includes several exquisite offerings, particularly Webster's wistful "someone to Watch Over Me" and Carter's elegant "Flamingo."
Peterson is buoyant on five selections. However, the high-water mark of the album comes in 10 songs by Fitzgerald, who was then at her peak. Her phrasing is impeccable and her voice pure.
The low point of the set is in Kru-pa's drum accompaniment to Carter and Peterson in a trio rendition of four pieces. Showing none of the subtlety necessary for small-group playing, the drummer performed as if he were a soloist in front of a big band.
A more recent album is John Coltrane's Afro Blue Impressions (Pablo Live 2620 101), a two-record set by the late tenor saxophonist from concerts in West Berlin and Stockholm. He performs with his famous quartet: pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones.
Unfortunately, the pieces on the album have been repeated on other Coltrane sets -- and in better performances. Though competent, these versions of compositions like "Chasin' the Trane," "Spiritual" and "Impressions" have been given much more intense readings on other discs.
The other Pablo Live set is Milt Jackson at the Kosel Nenkin (Pablo Live 2620 103), a two-record set the vibraphonist made at a concert in Tokyo in March of 1976.
Performing with tenor saxophonist Teddy Edwards, pianist Cedar Walton, bassist Ray Brown and drummer Billy Higgins, Jackson gives excellent readings of some of the best pieces in the modern jazz repertory -- "All Blues," "St. Thomas," "Birks Works" and "Stolen Moments."
Nothing exceptional happens, but the results include some very listenable music.
Two non-Pablo Live records among recent releases are Bill Evans's Quintessence (Fantasy F-9529) and Helen Merrill/John Lewis (Mercury SRM-1-1150).
The Evans album is a sterling example of refreshing lyricism by Evans in the company of tenor saxophonist Harold Land, guitarist Kenny Burrell, bassist Ray Brown and drummer Philly Joe Jones.
The playing by all is mellow, especially on the tender "A Child is Born" and resplendent "Martina."
Singer Merrill and pianist Lewis perform alone on most of the nine pieces they offer, except when they are joined by bassist Richard Davis, flutist Hubert Laws and drummer Connie Kay.
Her dry, detached voice is an unusual contrast to Lewis's spare, delicate piano work. They concentrate on their long-time interests -- the classics of American popular song form. Merrill also delivers a haunting wordless version of Lewis's jazz classic, "Django."