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Reviewers: Don Mather, Tony Augarde, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby

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Perfect Peterson

Pablo 0888072300781




1. Tenderly
2. How High the Moon
3. Nuages
4. Blues Etude
5. Caravan
6. I'm Getting Sentimental Over You
7. Summertime
8. If I Were a Bell
9. (Back Home Again In) Indiana
10. I'm Confessin'
11. Nigerian Marketplace
12. On the Trail

1. Honeysuckle Rose
2. Kelly's Blues
3. Wheatland
4. In a Mellotone
5. Tin Tin Deo
6. Nighttime
7. Reunion Blues
8. Satin Doll
9. Ja-Da
10. Morning in Newfoundland

Oscar Peterson -Piano
Herb Ellis – Guitar (tracks I/1, 2; II/1-3, 7)
Ray Brown – Bass (tracks I/1, 2, 6; II/1-4, 7, 9)
Joe Pass – Guitar (tracks I/3, 4, 6, 7, 11, 12)
Stephane Grappelli – Violin (track I/3)
Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen – Bass (tracks I/3, 4, 8, 11; II/5, 6, 8, 10)
Mickey Roker – Drums (track I/3)
Dizzy Gillespie – Trumpet (tracks I/5, 8)
Clark Terry – Trumpet, flugelhorn (tracks I/8; II/4)
Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis – Tenor sax (track I/8)
Bobby Durham – Drums (tracks I/8; II/1-3)
Count Basie – Piano (track I/10)
John Heard – Bass (track I/10)
Louie Bellson – Drums (track I/10)
Martin Drew – Drums (tracks I/11, 12; II/6, 8, 10)
Dave Young – Bass (track I/12)
Benny Carter – Alto sax (track II/4)
Lorne Lofsky – Guitar (tracks II/4, 6)
Lewis Nash – Drums (tracks II/4, 7)
Roy Hargrove – Trumpet (track II/5)
Ralph Moore – Tenor sax (track II/5)
Benny Green – Piano (track II/7)
Ulf Wakenius – Guitar (tracks II/8, 10)
Milt Jackson – Vibes (track II/9)
Karriem Riggins – Drums (track II/9)
The Michel Legrand Strings (track II/10)

Subtitled "The best of the Pablo and Telarc recordings", this double CD cherry-picks tracks from Oscar Peterson’s years with Norman Granz’s Pablo and related labels (spanning 1953 to 1986) and Telarc (from 1990 onwards). It really does contain some of Peterson’s best recordings – with one small reservation, and it’s the paradoxical one that sometimes Oscar is just too good. Several tracks are extremely fast workouts which display the pianist’s incredible technique but are a bit too frantic for comfort.

For example, Blues Etude is taken at a very lively pace, with Joe Pass and Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen hustling to keep up with Oscar, who plays plenty of fast stride piano. This is followed by an equally speedy Caravan – a duet with Dizzy Gillespie which, again, is impressive technically but may leave you longing for something less fiery. The unaccompanied Indiana and the uncomfortably hectic On the Trail similarly contain rather too many fireworks which occasionally misfire.

Dizzy Gillespie is also heard on If I Were a Bell, at a blessedly more modest tempo. His muted trumpet contrasts nicely with the more mellow sound of Clark Terry. This is the first of the album tracks that includes a drummer (Bobby Durham) and I have always appreciated the impetus which drummers have given to Peterson’s groups – notably Ed Thigpen and Martin Drew. Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis contributes a characteristically muscular tenor solo.

I was looking forward to the opening track – Tenderly – but slightly disappointed to find that it wasn’t the version I grew up with, where you could hear the audience gasping at every audacious step in Oscar’s improvisation. On this 1953 Tokyo recording, the Japanese audience is remarkably quiet, but both versions are very similar – it’s a tune that Peterson polished up until he had it just as he wanted it. Both performances gain immensely from the comforting chug of Herb Ellis’s guitar and Ray Brown’s double bass.

The same trio plays How High the Moon from two years later. Oscar’s technical proficiency is firmly in place but the performance also swings like mad. Nuages is more meditative, opening with quicksilver guitar from Joe Pass. Stephane Grappelli’s violin is as romantic as ever, playing Django Reinhardt’s best-known composition. Peterson enters with a lyrical unaccompanied meditation and Stephane rounds things off with a glorious cadenza.

Other highlights of the album include I’m Confessin’, a friendly encounter with fellow-pianist Count Basie, in which Peterson slims down his style to match Basie’s economy. Wheatland exhibits Oscar’s skills as a composer, poetically evoking his native Canada. The placid tempo proves that he can impress without any ostentatious displays. Another original, Nighttime, is likewise delicate but still has that bluesy pulse which is at the heart of Oscar’s music. The bass solo by the much-missed Niels Pedersen is as miraculous as most of his (and Oscar’s) playing – the two men both capable of stunning virtuosity. The album ends with yet another Peterson original – Morning in Newfounland, with lush string accompaniment arranged by Michel Legrand – and sounding remarkably like one of Legrand’s poignant compositions.

With first-class sound quality throughout, this double CD is an admirable introduction to one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century – in any idiom.

Tony Augarde


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