Tenor saxophonist Stan Getz's neo-big band album Apasionado has been consigned to minor league status since its original release in 1990. It does, indeed, look unpromising: recorded in fall 1989, when Getz was undergoing treatment for the cancer which would kill him less than two years later; with a pair of synthesizers replicating a string section; and with the commercially astute but MOR focused Herb Alpert producing. But 20 years on and rereleased, Apasionado rises way above expectations. Getz is in soaring form, commanding attention so completely that the ersatz strings, and Alpert's slight arrangements, become irrelevant, barely emerging from the distant background where they belong. Apasionado, despite the received wisdom, is actually a very fine Getz album. The album's structure was modeled, in large part, on Getz's masterpiece Focus (Verve, 1961), on which the saxophonist improvised, with practically no rehearsal and without prewritten melodies, over a suite played by a string orchestra arranged by Eddie Sauter.
This two-CD sampler is most highly recommended for listeners not familiar with Stan Getz's recordings of the 1950s and '60s. Starting with a version of "Stella by Starlight" that co-stars guitarist Jimmy Raney, this set matches Getz's cool tenor with such artists as trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Conte Candoli, trombonist J.J. Johnson, baritonist Gerry Mulligan, pianists Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans and Chick Corea, valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer and vibraphonist Gary Burton. Also included are his two main bossa nova hits "Desafinado" and "The Girl from Ipanema" along with a couple of tracks from Getz's highly-rated Focus album. It's a fine overview of the great tenor's middle years.