This recording has been tucked away in the Pablo vaults since 1975, when legendary jazz impresario Norman Granz assembled an all-star lineup of players who had journeyed to Europe for the '75 Montreaux Jazz Festival to tour under the leadership of trumpeter Roy Eldridge. Eldridge, already 64 at the time this date was recorded in Antibes, France, was a vital link in jazz development, a trumpeter who provided a bridge between Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie, but who continued to sound contemporary and vital despite passing styles and decades.
Along for the ride were five premiere players. On the front line with Eldridge were Johnny Griffin, reknowned as one of the toughest of the tough tenors, and guitarist Joe Pass, whose presence on any bandstand insured a swinging affair. In the rhythm session were pianist Ray Bryant (though his contributions to any gig could hardly be limited to rhythm), the Danish wizard of bass, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, and drummer Louis Bellson, another link to jazz tradition, whose big band credits included Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Duke Ellington and Count Basie.
It's hard to imagine the outcome of such a matchup being anything less than simply wonderful, and the music on this disc lives up to the promise of the cast of characters. There are only four tracks, but the shortest is nearly ten minutes long, and every cut provides room for the assembled masters to take multiple choruses. There's enormous energy invested by each player, and the result is music that beautifully expresses the joy of creation and interplay that's the hallmark of great jazz.
There's a special treat in store on the closing number, Thelonious Monk's "Hackensack." When it's time for the piano solo, Ray Bryant has given up his chair to a visiting Milt Jackson, who plays a dynamic two-finger solo imitative of his style on the vibes. It's a highlight both because of the rarity and quality of Jackson piano solos, but it's not the only highlight on the track. After an evening of outstanding solos from everyone onstage except Louis Bellson, the drummer explodes for four minutes on his own, and Louis Bellson is one of the best reasons for keeping drum solos in the jazz vocabulary.
It may have taken 27 years to release this recording, but nothing is lost with time. It's an outstanding document of a great performance by a great band.