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Oscar Peterson: On the Town

David Rickert By

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Oscar Peterson is one of the musicians responsible for bringing jazz to a wider audience, and it's easy to understand why from listening to any of his instantly appealing records. He took the knuckle-busting runs of Art Tatum and wedded them to the delicate approach of Nat King Cole in a series of accomplished trio recordings, most of which are still widely available today. Not much of a pioneer, Peterson was content to play familiar songs at a consistently high level of musicianship. As a result, all Peterson records sound pretty similar, but it's difficult to argue with someone so gifted at making piano playing seem so effortless and inviting. Critics argue that this is because Peterson plays it safe, sticking to familiar songs and creating solos from a warehouse of stock riffs, but that misses the point; Peterson wasn't an innovator like Powell or Monk, but more of a stylist who was a master of various techniques in the jazz idiom.

This live outing (so intimate you can hear glasses clink in the background) was recorded in Peterson's home country of Canada, and features what was arguably Peterson's best trio. Generally a piano-bass-guitar trio leaves too much room to fill, but Peterson is too boisterous to leave any open space and too swinging to really need a drummer in the first place. By the time of this recording the three musicians had developed an almost telepathic rapport which enabled them to flawlessly run through any tune; a daunting task, since Peterson isn't the easiest pianist to keep up with. Reportedly Ellis and Brown spent many practice sessions by themselves working through the changes, anticipating his every possible move. Good thing, since many of these tunes go off at a fearful pace. The live setting no doubt brought out the showman in Peterson, who stitches together elements of gospel, blues, and stride to create dazzling solos with his steady left hand and knuckle-busting right, entertaining at times simply because of brilliant technique. Ellis and Brown are content to provi


Track Listing: Sweet Georgia Brown, Should I?, When Lights are Low, Easy Listenin' Blues, Pennies From Heaven, The Champ, Moonlight in Vermont, Baby, Baby All the Time, I Like to Recognize the Tune, Joy Spring, Gal in Calico, Love is Here to Stay.

Personnel: Oscar Peterson, piano; Herb Ellis, guitar; Ray Brown, bass.

Title: On the Town | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Verve Music Group

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