Oscar Peterson / Herb Ellis / Ray Brown / Bobby Durham

The Legendary Oscar Peterson Trio: Live at

by Robert R. Calder

26 October 2004


Recollection (four for two, four as three)

The last time I reviewed this trio there were only three of them; one of them was about to depart the ensemble and the third would stay for something like ten years longer and witness the arrival of a drummer. Alyn Shipton tells all in a good note to this set, though he gets a literary knuckle-rap for saying that Bobby Durham was an “antidote” to Sam Jones in the 1967-70 Peterson trio. Antidotes counteract poisons, and Jones was a great bassist, as the late Nat Adderley remembered at length on some gigs. His story reflected on Jones’s other talents. Since I can’t at the moment think of the word Professor Shipton ought to have used, the knuckle-rap should be gentle and barely perceptible by him.

Telarc had a classical catalogue and crept into jazz by way of two CDs by a sometime film-composer and jazzman once married to Dory Previn and now, I believe, to Anne-Sophie von Mutter—after relationships (purely musical!) involving the London Symphony orchestra, and I think also (certainly musically) the lately departed sometime Petersonite Barney Kessel. Maybe he does believe Frau von Mutter the most wonderful violinist, Beethoven player, and general all round beautiful woman and wife. Certainly, he claims Peterson as the greatest of all jazz pianists. On the lady I will not presume to speak, while I suppose Peterson does at times challenge for the title Previn claims for him. At other times, well, he has had various recurring faults, mention of whose existence should at least grant me temporary credentials as definitely not one of these people who praise Peterson regardless. I suppose a couple of times in the four and a half hours of this music Peterson does produce some of his stock phrases, which aren’t entirely excused by being unplayable by anybody else. That’s well below average for any jazz pianist, since almost any ten fingers will let old friends hang around now and then. After experiencing the 1950s Canadian live concert by Peterson/Ellis/Brown, I have come to suppose that some of the fingers’ overindulgence or glutting in sheer numbers of notes was maybe their form of pining for the miraculous Ellis, who here with brown is a proper antidote to excess. This is live Peterson in every sense.

cover art

Oscar Peterson / Herb Ellis / Ray Brown / Bobby Durham

The Legendary Oscar Peterson Trio: Live at the Blue Note

US: 28 Sep 2004
UK: Available as import

After Previn, Telarc jazz took on Peterson, producing four CDs drawn from three evenings at New York’s Blue Note venue in 1990. Here all four are in a handsome folder and box for the price of two, and with Alyn Shipton on topics of trio playing which were raised for me by the joy of reviewing (with some melancholy) both a Ray Brown tribute set (his last date, and more from archives) and productions from members of his academy. Do read the notes if you didn’t buy the CDs separately. Peterson has always liked challenges, being given them and causing them. He is thriving here, which lets me call this recommendable Peterson. He’s produced too many recordings for a comparison. The reviewer who tries just sets the bar high, and here the huge pianist leaps it no bother. Brown, Ellis, and Durham are flying, too. The original trio were not young men even in 1990, but even then they didn’t need support from the drummer Shipton reports Peterson as saying was the most aggressive his trio ever had. They just wanted more sparks.

Of 36 or so tunes, 15 are by Peterson, including the closing 10-and-a-half minute “Cool Walk”, which sounds almost just its mother (she was an old standard called “Ja-Da”). Several tracks reach or go beyond the ten-minute mark, some being referred to as medleys while far more like suites proper. Nothing gets mixed and there’s none of the cocktail tinkler’s getting another tune up because he could think of nothing to do with the one he’d just been trying to play. Contrast is everything; sometimes it happens within a performance of the one tune, at other times it doesn’t happen and the continuity is almost surprising. These guys know that music can go deep only when the listener has expectations. To go on playing the same tune does, however, require imagination and inspiration.

One of the high-points comes when Peterson seems almost to be—hold your breath—having fingering problems. The articulation isn’t clean because (a) to Hell with routine, (b) he’s trying to play faster than he’s practiced for! At age 65! Four hours 37 minutes and 34 seconds, the note on the box says. You can tell the fourth CD was a genuine afterthought from the mildly intrusive microphone noise on the first track, which is “Falling in Love with Love”. This is Peterson music at the same best as without young Durham in the 1950s; it’s all here bar the more outrageous jokes of the time (the band told different ones by 1990). “Old Folks” and “Reunion Blues” are on the programme just because they’re such splendid vehicles. And these men go!

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