Oscar Peterson Trio: Tenderly

[19 May 2003]

By Jason MacNeil

Although suffering a minor stroke in recent years, which left him with a slight limp in his stride, Canadian jazz pianist Oscar Peterson is one of the country’s truly great artists. Cited as an influence for many contemporary jazz performers as is Ellis Marsalis, the patriarch of the genre’s first family, Peterson continues to make interesting and exciting music, including an ode to the various provinces of Canada in 2001. But if it weren’t for his early days of glory, none of his present work would matter. Such an example is the newly discovered tapes of an August 1958 Vancouver concert presented here. Featuring Herb Ellis on guitar and Ray Brown on bass, the sound is a initially bit rusty and hollow at times, but it works nearly half a century later.

After audience applause and a brief solo, Peterson gets into gear with “Alone Together”, a simple yet elegant piece highlighting the smooth but detailed approach Peterson has to the ebonies and ivories. Ray Brown figures prominently in the song as it picks up steam, with the sound quality picking up greatly as somebody off microphone can be heard doing an Ella-like scat. Peterson shows his wares in the middle portions before noticeably taking it down a few notches for a softer conclusion. Peterson offers up a brief introduction of each song before nailing “How About You”, taken from a previous album. Given the fact that Peterson released 15 albums in a single year on two occasions during the 1950s, this could be any album. But the devotion to quality is quite apparent as Peterson makes this song fly with a ragtime beat. Working his magic gets a brief amount of applause midway through, but Ray Brown and Herb Ellis do a valiant job of keeping up with Peterson.

“The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” starts off with a classical dexterity, which brings images of early Charlie Chaplin silent films to mind. Brown shines on this song with an impressive and rapid guitar solo. The song also demonstrates how quick Peterson was without being audibly hard on the keys like perhaps the rock pianists of the time like Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. “The Music Box Suite”, also known as “Daisy Dreams”, is the first Peterson composition here, which Peterson explains in some length. The song, which closes in on 12 minutes, is very medieval sounding as it opens, but moves into a dreamy jazz landscape as it evolves. Finally picking up steam near the seven-minute mark, the trio is in unison, making the sum far greater than its parts.

Ray Brown makes his instrument sing on the Ira and George Gershwin standard “A Foggy Day”. There isn’t a lot to get excited about here, mainly because the bar the trio has set is hard to surpass. Still, it has the class and flow that few could attempt to legitimately duplicate. It also packs a swinging tempo that isn’t heard early on. Peterson (at least I believe it to be him) scats through the melody as he hits the notes, either as a cue to the other musicians or simply to keep the tune in his head and within his hands. A perfect example is on the stellar “The Gypsy in My Soul”. “Patricia”, written by Herb Ellis, is the only guitar-driven song presented, but it resonates despite Peterson being excluded here. He also sits out for the start of “Pogo”, but humming like a circling wasp, you know it’s a matter of time before he gets going. Ending with the title track, which Peterson explains the history of, the song is a proper ending to a timeless piece of work.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/petersonoscar-tenderly/