OP in full flower in live Japan concert
Freedom Song: The Oscar
Peterson Big Four In Japan ’82
Oscar Peterson Quartet
Sampling Oscar Peterson at any stage of his career is a treat – as a young pianist when he was being hailed as the next Art Tatum, during the ensuing years when he reached his full potential, and today, though his once-powerful left hand has been left virtually useless as the result of a stroke several years ago.
But if you had to choose a period to find the Canadian jazz giant in full flower, you’d be sure to opt for the middle years, which is when the then 56-year-old Peterson, guitarist Joe Pass, bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen and drummer Martin Drew were recorded live at a concert in Tokyo.
The 1982 performance has been transferred from vinyl to two compact discs that, combined, offer nearly two hours of pure pleasure.
The electricity generated by Peterson would light all of Nevada County for a week as evidenced by OP’s first three selections: the moody “‘Round Midnight,” a captivating “Watch What Happens” with a sly quote from “Jersey Bounce” and Bill Evans’ “Waltz For Debbie.”
It’s then Pass’ turn with an a capella rendering of “Easy Living” followed by a fierce duet involving Pass and Pedersen on the appropriately titled “Move.”
That sets the scene for a medley of two of Peterson’s more ambitious compositions: the moving, gospel-flavored “Hymn To Freedom” and the dynamic “The Fallen Warrior” that is marked by a thoughtful Pass solo and Peterson’s intensive, flourishing finish. A tip of the topper to Nat Cole comes in the form of a peaceful version of “Sweet Lorraine” and Peterson staple “You Look Good To Me,” highlighted by Pedersen’s fiery solo, ends the first set.
“Now’s the Time,” a Charley Parker blues song that allows solo space all around, opens the second set. A Peterson original, “The Cakewalk,” shedding its turn-of-the-century origins in favor of a bop treatment, closes the concert. But between the musical bookends, there are such goodies as Pedersen’s burning composition “Future Child,” and two more Peterson compositions, “Mississagua Rambler,” a bop blues that features Peterson and Pass playing cat and mouse, and “Nigerian Marketplace” with its compelling, odd- time signature feeling.
“Night Child,” a personal favorite of the pianist, and the ballad medley of “Emily” and “Tenderly” complete the double-disc delight.
In sum, another jewel in the Peterson Quartet’s crown.
Some of My Best Friends Are … Guitarists
Ray Brown Trio
The late Ray Brown left a remarkable recorded legacy as both a leader and sideman, not the least of which is a series of albums his trio made with various instrumental specialists and vocalists.
You can spot them immediately because each disc carries the same theme, “Some of My Best Friends Are …,” followed by the name of the instrument. And his outing with a select group of guitarists is not only the latest, but also the last. Like the others in the series, it produces some memorable moments.
The dozen selections feature appearances by guest artists Kenny Burrell, Bruce Forman, Russell Maloen, Herb Ellis, John Pizzarelli and Ulf Walkenius, all top-of-the-line guitarists. And, as always, pianist Geoff Keezer, drummer Karriem Riggins and boss bassist Brown are integral parts of the action.
Brown spreads the honors evenly in that each of the six guitarists performs twice.
Ellis, the senior citizen in the sextet, sticks to mainstream with a lively version of “I Want To Be Happy” and the appropriately titled “Blues For Junior.” Pizzarelli, who’s at the other end of the age scale, chips in beautifully with a loping “Squeeze Me” and a complex reading of big-band favorite “Tangerine.”
Malone, who was Diana Krall’s guitarist for a year or so, delivers solid takes of “Heartstrings” and the Neil Hefti standard “Lil Darlin.” Forman’s performance of “Blues For Wes,” a tribute to the late Wes Montgomery, is outstanding and his interpretation of “The Song Is You” also gets high marks.
Old pro Burrell, whose work has always been a modicum of consistency, offers a soaring “Fly Me To the Moon” and the fairly obscure “Soulful Spirit.” Wakenius, who has made his mark as a member of Oscar Peterson’s latest combo, comes on strong with a lovely “My Funny Valentine” and “Blues For Ray,” an obvious salute to Brown.
While the guitarists get most of the solo space, Brown, Keezer and Riggins provide a comfort zone for their guests as wide as the Mississippi.
In short, prime-time jazz for anyone who even remotely appreciates the genre.
Cam Miller is a freelance jazz critic in Lake Wildwood. You may write to him care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.
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