Saturday, February 18, 2017

Oscar Peterson Trio - 1991 "Live at the Blue Note"

Live at the Blue Note is a 1990 live album by Oscar Peterson.

Pianist Oscar Peterson had a reunion with guitarist Herb Ellis and bassist Ray Brown at a well-publicized get-together at New York's Blue Note in March 1990. The trio (his regular group of the late '50s) was augmented by Peterson's late-'60s drummer Bobby Durham for spirited performances. Rather than using their complex arrangements of the past, the pianist and his alumni simply jammed through the performances and the results are quite rewarding. On the first of four CDs released by Telarc, the quartet performs "Honeysuckle Rose," a ballad medley, three of the pianist's originals and "Sweet Georgia Brown." As this and the other CDs in the series show, the magic was still there. 

In March of 1990, Oscar Peterson played a two-week engagement at the Blue Note in New York with a group billed as the Oscar Peterson Trio, even though it contained four players. Peterson was on piano, Ray Brown was on bass, Herb Ellis was on guitar and Bobby Durham was on drums. The billing was no doubt intended to capitalize on the fact that Peterson, Brown and Ellis had been one of the most popular jazz trios of the 1950s. The three had rarely played together between 1958 and this 1990 New York gig.

Telarc, a successful classical label just breaking into jazz at the time, recorded the last three nights of the engagement. Over the next two years, music from each night was released on individual CDs: The Legendary Oscar Peterson Trio Live at the Blue Note, Saturday Night at the Blue Note and Last Call at the Blue Note. Telarc took one last pass in 1993, with Encore at the Blue Note, a selection of “other fine moments” from the three nights. The first two albums won Grammy trophies. In late 2004, Telarc reissued this material in a four-CD set. You will look in vain for previously unissued tracks or remastering. But you get four CDs for the price of two, a very slick slip case (all four-CD sets should be packaged this way) and new liner notes by Alyn Shipton, jazz critic for the Times of London.

On Oscar Peterson, there are two broad critical schools of thought. The first (probably more widely held) is that Peterson is a virtuoso who deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence with Art Tatum. The second is that Peterson is a virtuoso, and that it is difficult to care very much about this fact. If it is the second perspective that holds sway in this review, it is hopefully not without respect for the first. Opinions about Peterson’s music are even more subjective than most judgments about art. If his works for you, then you are going to love this set, because it contains almost five hours of torrential floods of pure Peterson. You are going to love tunes like “Sushi” and “Blues Etude,” which prove that Peterson, at 65, could play as fast as any pianist who ever lived. You are going to marvel at his command of phrasing, his harmonic knowledge and his embodiment of so much jazz piano history. You are going to be dazzled by the hook-up with guitarist Herb Ellis, especially given the 32-year hiatus in their musical relationship.

But if Peterson does not move you, then you are likely to find his fast pieces rather like musical Formula One car races, complete with hairpin turns. You will find the rewards of the dazzling fours between Peterson and Ellis more athletic than aesthetic. You will have reservations about ballads like “It Never Entered My Mind” and “A Child Is Born,” believing that, for a jazz improviser, these songs should be occasions for self-revelation, but that in Peterson’s hands they are elegant, flawless and detached.

This 1990 recording reunites Oscar Peterson's nonpareil 1950s trio of Ray Brown and Herb Ellis, fleshing out the lineup with drummer Bobby Durham from the great pianist's '60s group. Though all the principals were in their sixties at the time of the recording, their performances are as tight and fleet as ever, with Ellis sounding especially inspired. The ballads "I Remember You," "A Child Is Born," and "Tenderly" demonstrate their mature, melodic empathy, while "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Sweet Georgia Brown" are the type of barn burners for which Peterson and company were famous. 

Track listing

1.    Introductions – 1:56
2.    "Honeysuckle Rose" (Andy Razaf, Fats Waller) – 8:50
3.    "Let There Be Love" (Lionel Grant, Ian Rand) – 12:00
4.    "Peace for South Africa" (Oscar Peterson) – 10:46
5.    "Sushi" (Peterson) – 8:06
6.    "I Remember You"/"A Child Is Born"/"Tenderly" (Johnny Mercer, Victor Schertzinger)/(Thad Jones, Alec Wilder) – 7:17
7.    "Sweet Georgia Brown" (Ben Bernie, Maceo Pinkard, Kenneth Casey) – 8:21
8.    "Blues for Big Scotia" (Peterson) - 6:08

Personnel

    Oscar Peterson – piano
    Herb Ellis – guitar
    Ray Brown – double bass
    Bobby Durham - drums

1 comment:

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