Oscar Peterson is easily one of the most prolific pianists in the history of jazz music. His unrestrained and arguably self-indulgent recording career has periodically come under critical fire for its homogeneity and lack of appreciable innovative spirit. Still, his prowess in front of the keys is difficult to slight and his work on this disc is on par with his usual degree of virtuosity.
Taking Peterson’s mammoth discography into account this session is something of an oddity. On all but one number the archetypal traditionalist plugs in and unexpectedly flexes his improvisational muscles on electric piano! The whole precedent-setting event is even more startling when one considers that the date was bankrolled by Norman Granz, Peterson’s perennial producer and an avowed jazz conservative for release on his own Pablo imprint. Perhaps at Granz’s urging, and despite all the special effects available through amplification, Peterson plays most of the disc predictably straight save for some strange atmospherics on the opening “Solar Winds.” But rather than lapsing into another pedestrian stroll through the requisite litany of standards that mark so many of his other efforts he instead employs the newfangled instrument on an enlivening array of originals.
His partners sound eager to accompany him on his electric explorations and all three switch easily between solo and supportive roles. Orsted Pedersen even catches a bit of the amplification fever himself hefting an electric bass and slapping some firm-fingered fatback lines on the closing “Teenager.” Bellson’s traps and Pass’ metallic strums lock into a decidedly funky bounce. With the lazily grooving “Soliloquy” Pass has a lengthy and relaxed solo passage flanked by the tranquil chimes of Bellson. The title track, clearly the album centerpiece given its length, finds Peterson tickling his familiar acoustic ivories save for a brief electric prelude. Bellson sits out on the piece and it’s performance of quiet and reserved beauty with plenty of room for the three remaining musicians to stretch out and bask in. “Charlie” is a brief, but sauntering lullaby and Peterson’s iridescent notes drape a luxurious quilt of melody around the group. If you’re one who, like me, looks at Oscar Peterson albums as a dime a dozen given the man’s obvious proliferation across the landscape of small ensemble piano jazz this is one disc that may raise your eyebrows and bring a pleasant smile of surprise to your face.