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Oscar Peterson: Exclusively For My Friends

Bruce Lindsay By

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An 8-CD set of recordings from the great Oscar Peterson, beautifully recorded, sumptuously packaged and accompanied by a 60-page booklet full of informative writing: Exclusively For My Friends is a treat for ears and eyes. All of the recordings on this set were made between 1963 and 1971. The sessions took place in the home of producer and MPS Records owner Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer in Germany's Black Forest—Peterson and Brunner-Schwer were friends and the pianist often visited the label owner's home.

According to the interview with Brunner-Schwer's son Andreas included in the booklet, Brunner-Schwer asked Peterson to play in front of small, invited, audiences and recorded the performances (an exception is album #4, My Favorite Instrument, a collection of solo performances when no audience was present). The audiences are unobtrusive in the main, although there are occasional muted conversations and other sounds—Peterson's own "vocalising" is often much more apparent.

CDs 1-6 were originally released individually in 1968 as parts of the Exclusively For My Friends series of albums on MPS. To complicate matters, some of the albums have also been released under other titles—for example, Action was also released as Easy Walker (Prestige, 1969); Girl Talk was released as Oscar Peterson Plays For Lovers (Prestige, 1969). The Lost Tapes 1 first appeared in 1995 as Exclusively For My Friends: The Lost Tapes (Verve) and all seven of these albums have appeared previously as a box set.

Most of these tracks are trio performances—most commonly with the excellent rhythm pairing of bassist Sam Jones and drummer Bobby Durham. Standards feature strongly, a few of them ("Satin Doll," "Body And Soul," "Who Can I Turn To") more than once albeit from different performances. The solo performances on My Favorite Instrument are superb. They're characterised by Peterson's confident, occasionally almost aggressive, drive (his power on "Perdido" and the jaunty "Lulu's Back In Town" seems to threaten the very well-being of the keyboard).

Girl Talk, the second CD, includes some of the most immediately engaging tracks. "On A Clear Day," with Jones and Durham, is especially exuberant and swinging. The same trio gives "Girl Talk" a similar sense of fun even at a notably slower tempo.

The Way I Really Play features the trio of Peterson, Jones and Durham throughout. It's probably the most consistently impressive album in terms of performance and sound quality. "Waltzing Is Hip" is up there with "On A Clear Day" for exuberant joy—Durham's solo is full of flair and energy. A 10-minute "Satin Doll," powered by Jones' slinky walking baseline, is melodic and imaginative. Mellow Mood belies its title with a series of upbeat swingers—"Summertime" and "Green Dolphin Street" are standouts—with Peterson in particularly hard-hitting and attacking form.

The Lost Tapes 2 is the only CD to contain previously unreleased material. As with the first Lost Tapes album, Brunner-Schwer selected the programmed tracks personally. Once again, songbook standards are to the fore but there are also one or two less frequently heard tunes. A highlight is a 1965 recording of "Hymn To Freedom," with Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen. Composed by Peterson (with lyrics by Harriette Hamilton) it's a beautiful tune, a close spiritual and musical relative of Dr Billy Taylor's "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free." Another standout is a swinging, mid-tempo, quartet reading of "All Of Me" from 1971, with Milt Jackson on vibes and Brown and Louis Hayes on bass and drums. Jackson takes the lead for most of the track, with Peterson comping sympathetically in the rhythm section until he takes his own solo.

Fans of Peterson the singer must wait until the final track of The Lost Tapes 2 for the set's only song. "A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening," from the 1971 sessions, features Peterson on lead vocals accompanied by Singers Unlimited. It's a syrupy arrangement that was already old-fashioned when it was recorded—it sounds extremely dated 45 years later and Peterson's vocal, though likeable, lacks finesse. As for the rest of Exclusively For My Friends, it sounds as fresh and exciting as the day it was recorded—it's a key collection of music from a golden age of Peterson's creativity and musicianship.

Track Listing: CD1: Action. At Long Last Love; Easy Walker; Tin Tin Daeo; I've Got A Crush On You; A Foggy Day. CD2: Girl Talk. On A Clear Day; I'm In The Mood For Love; Girl Talk; Medley: I Concentrate On You/Moon River; Robbins Nest. CD3: The Way I Really Play. Waltzing Is Hip; Satin Doll; Love Is Here To Stay; Sandy's Blues; Alice In Wonderland; Noreen's Nocturne. CD4: My Favorite Instrument. Someone To Watch Over Me; Perdido; Body And Soul; Who Can I Turn To; Bye, Bye Blackbird; I Should Care; Lulu's Back In Town; Little Girl Blue; Take The A-Train. CD5: Mellow Mood. In A Mellotone; Nica's Dream; Green Dolphin Street; Summertime; Sometimes I'm Happy; Who Can I Turn To. CD6: Travelin' On. Travelin' On; Emily; Quiet Nights; Sax No End; When Lights Are Low. CD7: The Lost Tapes 1. Gravy Waltz; Three O'Clock In The Morning; Squeaky's Blues; Tenderly; I Will Wait For You; Let's Fall In Love; Put On A Happy Face; Stella By Starlight; Moanin'; Never Say Yes; It's Impossible; My Romance. CD8: The Lost Tapes 2. Autumn Leaves; The Folks Who Live On The Hill; Body And Soul; Misty; Hymn To Freedom; Goodbye; Li'l Darlin'; Satin Doll; All Of Me; A Lovely Way to Spend An Evening.

Personnel: Oscar Peterson: piano, vocals (CD8: 10); Sam Jones: bass (CD2: 1-3; CD3; CD5; CD6; CD7: 5-12); Bob Durham: drums (CD2: 1, 3; CD3; CD5; CD6; CD7: 5-12); Ray Brown: bass (CD1; CD2: 5; CD7: 1-4; CD8: 2, 3, 5-9); Jiri Mraz: bass (CD8: 10); Ed Thigpen: drums (CD1; CD7: 1-4; CD8: 2, 3, 5-8); Louis Hayes: drums (CD2: 2, 5; CD8: 9, 10); Milt Jackson: vibes (CD8: 9); Gene Puerling: vocals (CD8: 10); Don Shelton: vocals (CD8: 10); Len Dresslar: vocals (CD8: 10); Bonnie Herman: vocals (CD8: 10).

Title: Exclusively For My Friends | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: MPS

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