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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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West Side Story + Affinity

Poll Winners Records
PWR 27315



West Side Story
1. Something's Coming
2. Somewhere
3. Jet Song
4. Tonight
5. Maria
6. I Feel Pretty
7. Reprise
8. Waltz For Debbie
9. Tangerine
10. Gravy Waltz
11. This Could Be The Start Of Something Big
12. Baubles, Bangles And Beads
13. Six And Four
14. I'm A Fool To Want You
15. Yours Is My Heart Alone
16. Yesterdays

Oscar Peterson - Piano
Ray Brown - Bass
Ed Thigpen - Drums


Firstly, a disclaimer is required. I have been a big fan of Oscar Peterson since, as a young lad, I met him in the summer of 1949, while he was touring dance halls in Northern Ontario, Canada leading his own small orchestra. This was before he was discovered by Norman Granz playing at the Alberta Lounge in Montreal which led to his surprise performance at the JATP concert in Carnegie Hall in the fall of 1949. The full story of this Granz meeting can be found in Tad Hershorn's biography of Norman Granz entitled The Man Who Used Jazz For Justice.

This reissue by Poll Winners Records of West Side Story and Affinity, both of which were originally recorded for Verve Records in 1962, captures this particular iteration of the trio which was together from 1959 to 1965. In this time-frame, the trio recorded about thirty-five albums, plus many others in which the trio backed a diverse number of musicians, or was in settings with larger groups.

Using a Broadway play such as West Side Story as the musical framework was not an unusual adventure for the trio, as they had already recorded Porgy And Bess as well as Fiorello. However the music, as written by Leonard Bernstein seemed to lend itself to jazz orchestrations more readily than the standard Broadway fare, and thus Peterson was at his virtuosic best for this session. Starting off with Something's Coming with Ray Brown offering some strummed bass, and brush work from Thigpen, the group tears into the tune, with Peterson showing off his startling right-hand work. The relationship between Brown and Peterson goes back to the 1949 Carnegie Hall performance, and was then followed by a duo recording in 1950. They had been together almost continually since then. So it should not be surprising that a strong symbiotic relationship had developed between the two. That can be evidenced by the subtle arco bass Brown supplies on Somewhere, as well as the indefatigable bass support on literally every tune in the session.

From his very first days on the jazz scene, Peterson's dazzling technique, which was a combination of skill and swing, has fascinated his listening audience. These skills are on full display whether it is on Tonight, Maria, or I Feel Pretty. All in all, this release was classic Peterson.

The second half of this release is Affinity which is a collection of covers of some standard tunes, and also several jazz pieces such as Bill Evans' Waltz For Debbie, colleague Ray Brown's Gravy Waltz and the Oliver Nelson composition Six And Four. The recording of this album was done during the period that the trio was playing a gig at the London House in Chicago from which his recording Live At The London House emerged. Whether the group might have been tired from their nightly performances, the album seems to be somewhat perfunctory and is short on any real emotion or commitment. That is not to say that the trio lacks either its usual flash or displays of its intricate interplay. It's just that it seems superficial.

However, Oscar Peterson was a piano wizard and a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon deserving of all the international acclaim he received.

Pierre Giroux

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