Oscar Peterson: The Quintessence & Oscar Peterson and Nelson Riddle


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Oscar Peterson

The Quintessence



Oscar Peterson and Nelson Riddle

Oscar Peterson/Nelson Riddle

Record Label #2


This month marks the two-year anniversary of Oscar Peterson's passing. The jazz legend continued to perform live until a year before he died at 82. While music lovers may be deprived of hearing him play at clubs and concert halls, his legacy lives on through two outstanding new releases. One offers a sprawling assessment of a period of Peterson's career that featured diverse collaborations with some of the brightest stars in the jazz universe. The other shows what he could do as the centerpiece of one of the greatest big bands of all time.

The Quintessence compiles 29 selections culled from Verve and Clef recordings Peterson made in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles between 1950-58. Along with the leader, the common thread that runs throughout the release is the presence of bassist Ray Brown who, in the liner notes, Peterson refers to as "my brother." Brown appears on all but one of the recordings that feature a bassist. Thus the material belongs as much to Brown as it does to Peterson.

The sizes of the combos on The Quintessence range from solo to quintet. It includes three duets that couple Peterson with three of the greatest female vocalists of all time: Billie Holiday on "Love For Sale"; Anita O'Day on "Them There Eyes" and Ella Fitzgerald on a sublime reading of "Lush Life" that reportedly took producer Norman Granz no less than 16 takes to capture properly. Peterson himself takes a stab at singing—to great success—on two numbers that appeared on his 1952 Vocal Stylings of album. Fred Astaire even joins in on the fun, adding his own 'accompaniment' via his world-famous tap shoes on a quartet number led by Peterson and Brown.

Myriad allstar appearances round out the rest of the album. Louis Armstrong appears with the Peterson quartet for a lengthy, sublime reading of "You Go To My Head." The personnel is, perhaps, at its strongest on a pair of numbers where Peterson and Brown—along with Buddy Rich—offer support to Lionel Hampton. The Quintessence exists not as a comprehensive tome aimed at Peterson completists. New fans should use it merely as a jumping-off point that will introduce them to the many essential albums Peterson recorded during this prolific period.

Those aforementioned completists will be happy to know, however, that the long out-of-print 1963 Verve album Oscar Peterson and Nelson Riddle has finally been rereleased. In his own liner notes, Peterson describes his collaboration with Riddle—once referred to by Frank Sinatra as "the greatest arranger in the world"—as "an important landmark in my record career." There's no question that a great deal of tender love and care went into the conception and execution of the album's ten selections.

Don't expect much of the Nelson Riddle you might have grown accustomed to on his numerous 'swinging' collaborations with Sinatra for the Capitol label. This music finds the arranger/conductor in a much more introspective, romantic, even melancholy mood. There are a couple of exceptions, notably bouncy versions of the Harold Arlen/Truman Capote composition "A Sleeping Bee" and the now-standard "Someday My Prince Will Come" (a version that would have made Walt Disney proud).

One highlight is the ensemble's interpretation of the Gershwin classic "My Ship," which begins with some brass and harp arrangements that clearly recall Bernard Herrmann's score for the film Vertigo. Subsequently the tune segues into some of the most warm and beautiful string arrangements heard anywhere on the album.

While the star on this release is unmistakably Nelson Riddle, Peterson and company sound wholeheartedly devoted to contributing their best work to the proceedings. Joined by Ray Brown (of course) and his regular drummer Ed Thigpen, Peterson plays with an enthusiasm that illustrates his trust in and respect for Riddle.

Oscar Peterson served the jazz world for many years and he's only been gone for two. With these new releases of some of his best music, jazz fans of all ages have the opportunity to rediscover and appreciate the genius of one of music's greatest virtuosos.

Tracks and Personnel

The Quintessence

Tracks: CD 1 (1950-1955): Début; Tenderly; Deep purple; Salute to Garner; How high the Moon; the Astaire blues; Too Marvelous for Words; Love for sale; C Jam Blues; Just a-sittin' and a-rockin'; Fast dance; Autumn in New York; Air Mail Special; Midnight Sun; Over The Rainbow; Jive at Five. CD 2 (1955-1958): Blues for Basie; Norren's nocturne; 52nd Street Theme; Them there eyes; Bluesology; I've got the World on a string; Indiana; Joy Spring; You go to my Head; Lush Life; Sweet Georgia Brown; The Champ; I Could have danced all night.

Personnel: Various personnel per track.

Oscar Peterson and Nelson Riddle

Tracks: My Foolish Heart; Judy; Round Midnight; Someday My Prince Will Come; Come Sunday; Nightingale; My Ship; A Sleeping Bee; Portrait Of Jenny; Goodbye.

Personnel: Oscar Peterson: piano; Ray Brown: bass; Ed Thigpen: drums; Nelson Riddle: conductor; 5 horns, 5 fl, 10 violoncellos, harp, percussion.

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