May 28, 2024

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CD review: Oscar Peterson – A Time for Love: The Oscar Peterson Quartet Live in Helsinki, 1987 – 2021: Video, CD cover

Loved by fans but underrated or derided as a showman rather than an innovator by purists, the late Canadian pianist Oscar Peterson, who won seven Grammy Awards and released over 200 albums in his lifetime, is also often thought of as one of the great keyboard accompanists from his time backing Ella Fitzgerald. An apostle of a crowd-pleasing mainstream aesthetic, Peterson could also be an engaging straight-ahead jazz player especially when pushed, which on this unreleased “lost” recording from a 1987 European tour, is done by virtuoso electric guitarist Joe Pass.

Recorded at Helsinki’s Kulttuuritalo by Heikki Hölttä and Pentti Männikkö of the Finnish Broadcasting Company in clear, beautifully balanced sound, the set opens with a trio of Peterson compositions, one of which, “Love Ballade,” is a long, undeniably beautiful example of Peterson the writer and player at his sweetest and soulful best. Despite the title, the three-part “A Salute to Bach,” is a anything but a dry attempt to replicate the classical keyboard master although there are moments during its 20-minute run time—particularly in the Andante section—where Peterson ups the tempos and plays passages that vaguely imitate Bach’s style.

Pass is especially wonderful in this piece, staying alongside the pianist as the pace increases, adding exclamations and competing heat to the racing fires. Supported by Peterson’s longtime rhythm section of English drummer Martin Drew and fellow Canadian bassist Dave Young, all the musicians settle into a familiar groove in the concert’s all standards second half where Peterson favorite, Benny Goodman’s “Soft Winds,” gets a swinging reading with the pianist’s fleet digits adding his trademark showy runs. Listeners can decide if Peterson’s lively take on Bill Evans’ “Waltz for Debby,” which contains a brief quote from “Pop Goes the Weasel,” is either evidence that Peterson had no interest in being a serious jazz player as he frolics and improvises around the familiar melody, or the enjoyable transformation of an overly serious jazz number into an accessible showpiece.

That’s followed by a pair of sure-to-please showstoppers with Pass weaving his gentle way through “When You Wish Upon a Star,” while the entire band joins for a rousing medley of Ellington tunes that opens with “Take the A Train.” Welcoming and apparent, Peterson was the master of quartet jazz made for the masses.

01 Cool Walk (Live) 09:07
02 Sushi (Live) 06:57
03 Love Ballade (Live) 10:40
04 A Salute to Bach (Medley): Allegro / Andante / Bach’s Blues (Live) 20:38
05 Cakewalk (Live) 09:17
06 A Time for Love (Live) 08:09
07 How High the Moon (Live) 04:28
08 Soft Winds (Live) 06:03
09 Waltz for Debby (Live) 05:18
10 When You Wish Upon a Star (Live) 04:54
11 Duke Ellington Medley: Take the “A” Train / Don’t Get Around Much Anymore / Come Sunday / C-Jam Blues / Lush Life / Caravan (Live) 18:57
12 Blues Etude (Live) 05:55

Oscar Peterson - A Time for Love: The Oscar Peterson Quartet - Live in  Helsinki, 1987 (2-CD set) - Music

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