How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Oscar Peterson's recordings on the Pablo label span the years from the '50s to the '70s and have long needed this type of lavish anthology. Over the course of four discs, you get to hear five tunes by the classic trio matching the peerless pianist with guitarist Herb Ellis and bassist Ray Brown. But the best of that particular band – arguably Peterson's finest – resides largely on the Verve label, so the Pablo years find Peterson interacting with a number of stars with whom he shared studio or concert stage time on an occasional, sometimes casual basis. The supporting cast on the Pablo years is dazzling, and the results are rarely less than deeply satisfying.
Peterson sounds delightfully restrained during a charming piano duet with Count Basie, deliciously witty with growling trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison, and nearly intimidated by the virtuosity of Stephane Grappelli, but then again, "Nuages" is the tune this box showcases, and the violinist had a few decades after Django's death to stake his claim to that number.
Half of the 46 tracks here are live, and live recordings always bring out the flashy entertainer in Peterson. Yet even for those critics like myself who find Peterson more focused and inspired in the studio, there are ecstatic rewards in the live offerings here. A 1967 concert with the Ellington band finds Peterson navigating a strangely compelling blues line through a show-stopping "Take the A Train" that succeeds in spite of obvious showboating. Another live bit of Ellingtonia that succeeds, a medley of Perdido and Caravan at dizzying speed, comes from a 1986 Los Angeles concert where Peterson's telepathic empathy with guitarist Joe Pass equals in sheer majesty his interaction of the '50s with Herb Ellis.
There are a handful of regrettable clinkers: a misguided vocal that sounds like Nat King Cole recorded at the ocean floor, a quizzical number on clavichord, surely not Peterson's ideal instrument (as he was quick to recognize), and an overripe orchestrated tribute to the late Princess Di that resembles in sap content Ellington's tribute to the Queen. These gaffes aside, this is a sterling, well-programmed set certain to please fans of our forever-young, and arguably, greatest living pianist.
Track Listing: 1. That Old Black Magic, 2. Tenderly, 3. How High the Moon, 4. The way You Look Tonight, You Are
Too Beautiful, 6. Smedley, 7. Someday My Prince Will Come, 8. Daytrain, 9. Moonglow, 10. Sweet
Grorgia Brown, C Jam Blues, 12. Wes' Tune, 13. Okie Blues, 14. You Can Depend On Me, 15. You
Are My Sunshine, 16. Caravan, 17. Stella By Starlight, 18. Little Jazz, 19. Soft Winds, 20. Mean To
Me, 21. Oh Lady, Be Good, 22. On A Slow Boat To China, 23. Summertime, 24. Blues For Birks, 25.
How Long has This Been Going On, 26. Hogtown Blues, and more.
Personnel: Oscar Peterson, Count Basie, Louis Bellson, Ray brown, Benny Carter, Martin Drew, Harry "Sweets"
Edison, Roy Eldridge, Duke Ellington, Jon Faddis, Dizzy Gillespie, Stephane Grappelli, Coleman
Hawkins, Louis Hayes, Johnny Hodges, Barney Kessel, Neils-Henning Orsted Pedersen, Joe Pass,
Mickey Roker, Clark Terry, Toots Thieleman, Ed Thigpen, David Young, and more.