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With Oscar's Ballads, we are reminded that, behind Oscar Peterson's blazing swingwith his furious pace that launched a thousand riffs, not to mention hundreds of imitatorsPeterson's solo construction and compositional talent rely on logically appealing and personalized modulations. Underlying his signature technique, Peterson lays down a foundation of harmonic richness and internal chord movement that usually were overlooked as audiences were wowed by his technical mastery and percussive force.
Oscar's Ballads is a compilation from a number of Peterson's previous Telarc CD's recorded during the last decade. The emphasis, of course, is upon his under-emphasized ability to approach a ballad with a maturity of style and a remarkable sensitivity. Some of his recording of ballads may stem from the often-reporded stroke that he suffered in the 1990's, which restricted use of one hand. But the interest in balladic form was always there.
A prolific composer who usually includes one original tune on each album, Peterson wrote all of the songs on Oscar's Ballads from a variety of inspirations. The first track, on which Peterson's piano work is backed lushly by Michel Legrand's orchestra, arose from Peterson's tribute album to his native country, Canadaa project that awaited several decades before its fruition. Similarly, the next track, "If You Only Knew," contains a melodic simplicity cloaking internal movement that entrances the listener. A duo with Benny Green, "If You Only Knew" seems logical enough, but at the point where the melody is expected to resolve, block chords fully expanding upon the potential of the modulations, Peterson suspends the final chords for a moment of inexplicable but felt suspense. Even during the ballads, Peterson swings, as if he can't contain his exuberance, and "If You Only Knew" evolves from a rhythmless exploration to an extroverted romp.
Leading extraordinary trios throughout his career, Peterson still showcases throughout Oscar's Ballads the excellence of his sidemen, including long-time associates Ray Brown, Herb Ellis and Bobby Durham. While it's certainly refreshing and inspirational to hear members from the famous Oscar Peterson trios, members of his more recent groups contribute clearly conceived solos, such as Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen's on "When Summer Comes" or guitarist Lorne Lofsky's elevating work on "Tranquille." It's especially gratifying to hear Peterson play with some of the thirty-something generation's finer hornmen, Roy Hargrove and Ralph Moore, on "Ecstasy." Unassuming and conscientious musicians as well, Hargrove and Moore are on their way to developing personalized sounds of their own (although it may be hard for Moore to break out to explore his sound during his current Tonight Show gig).
Oscar's Ballads serves to remind listeners that Peterson's talent is a mile wide and a mile deep. His appeal extends far beyond his prodigious swing and into the harmonic bases of the tunes he performs.
Track Listing: Harcourt Nights, If You Only Knew, When Summer Comes, Nighttime, Love Ballade, Tranquille, Ecstasy, Peace For South Africa
Personnel: Oscar Peterson, Benny Green, piano; Roy Hargrove, trumpet; Ralph Moore, tenor sax; Ulf Wakenius, Herb Ellis, Lorne Lofsky, guitar; Niels-Henning