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Various Artists: Norman Granz Jazz in Montreux: Jazz at the Philharmonic ’75

Jazz impresario Norman Granz was no dummy. Although it doesn’t take a genius to realize that films of all-star concerts featuring the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Milt Jackson, Benny Carter and Roy Eldridge might be worthwhile viewing somewhere down the line, Granz showed keen foresight in arranging for first-class production values when it came to capturing his Pablo recording artists in performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival throughout the 1970s. These four Norman Granz’ Jazz in Montreux DVDs are predictably remarkable documents.

Milt Jackson & Ray Brown ’77 captures a heated jam session with the master vibraphonist and bassist (both in superb form) hosting Clark Terry, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Monty Alexander. A greasy “Red Top” and a rollicking “You Are My Sunshine” are standout performances.

Brown also gets his mighty licks in on Oscar Peterson Trio ’77 while sharing the stage with the virtuoso pianist as well as the incredibly gifted Danish bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, who died in April 2005. Brown and Pedersen trade off accompaniment and solos within each song rather than yielding individual numbers to each other, giving the viewer a chance to compare the differing styles of these two titans of the instrument.

Jazz at the Philharmonic ’75 is a characteristic Granz extravaganza, bringing together Clark Terry, Roy Eldridge, Benny Carter, Joe Pass and Zoot Sims on the frontline, along with pianist Tommy Flanagan in the rhythm section. The uptempo numbers, including “Sunday” and “I Never Knew,” bulge with gripping, competitive solos, but it’s the ballad “If I Had You” that brings out the true romantic in each of these legendary players.

Count Basie himself only joins Ella Fitzgerald on a single performance on Ella & Basie ’77: The Perfect Match. The majority of the program finds the inimitable singer backed by pianist Paul Smith’s trio and the Basie Orchestra. Still in terrific voice and spirits, Fitzgerald proves herself the hardest working woman in show biz, swinging out on standards, ballads and blues. The Basie band responds in kind; by the time the Count takes to the keyboard for a good-natured romp with Fitzgerald, everyone involved is sounding as if Montreux was the only place to be on that late-’70s night.

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