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Oscar Peterson: Con Alma

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Oscar Peterson: Con Alma
To borrow Duke Ellington's description of Louis Armstrong, Oscar Peterson was born poor, died rich and never hurt anyone along the way. He also brought joy to untold numbers of people. But, truth to tell, his style was the twentieth-century equivalent of modern day AI-produced generative music. Sit Peterson down at a piano, progamme him (as in give him a tune to play), and press Go: a torrent of technique poured out.

Trouble is, Peterson's pianism was all about technique; soul did not get a look in. In this he stands alongside Stan Kenton, who also offered bravura as a substitute for soul. True, unlike Kenton, Peterson could swing, but all too often, the breakneck tempos with which he dazzled listeners precluded even that, leaving his accompanists struggling to keep up. But if all you wanted out of piano jazz was technical virtuosity and the Great American Songbook, Peterson was your man.

Con Alma, a previously unreleased selection of material from a concert in Lugano, Switzerland in 1964, does nothing to upset this verdict. Peterson, leading his trio with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Ed Thigpen, tears through six familiar tunes: Bill Evans' "Waltz For Debby," Robert Mellon and Guy Woods' "My One And Only Love," Peterson's "Blues For My Landlady," Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma," Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers' "I Could Write A Book" and George and Ira Gershwin and Dorothy and DuBose Heyward's "It Ain't Necessarily So."

"Waltz For Debby" opens the album, and closes the case for the prosecution (listen to exhibit A, the YouTube clip below). Evans' exquisite ballad, in his own hands full of light and space, delicacy and subtlety, is treated like everything else in Peterson's book, its tempo cranked up and every available second crammed with cadenzas, arpeggios, whizbangs and bling. It becomes anonymous, indistinguishable from the five other tracks. Peterson's legacy has received something of a revisionist spin in some quarters in 2023. Con Alma, however, will do nothing to sway the doubters.

Track Listing

Waltz for Debby; My One and Only Love; Blues for My Landlady; Con Alma; I Could Write a Book; It Ain't Necessarily So.

Personnel

Ray Brown
bass, acoustic

Album information

Title: Con Alma | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Mack Avenue Records


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