To mark the ninetieth anniversary of the legendary jazz pianist Oscar Peterson
's birth (August 15, 2015), Peterson's widow, Kelly Peterson, produced a tribute album for the ages: Oscar, with Love,
a marvelous three-disc set comprising ten never-before-recorded Peterson compositions, nineteen of his better-known works and seven compositions written especially for him, performed by sixteen contemporary piano masters on Peterson's personal Boesendorfer Imperial piano at his private studio in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. Makoto Ozone
has the honor of opening Disc 1 with a warm-hearted reading of Peterson's lovely ballad, "The Contessa." He is followed, in order, by a veritable who's who of noteworthy (no pun intended) keyboard artists: Robi Botos
, Oliver Jones
, Gerald Clayton
, Benny Green
, Michel Legrand
, Renee Rosnes
, Bill Charlap
, Ramsey Lewis
, Justin Kauflin
, Kenny Barron
, Monty Alexander
, Chick Corea
, co-producer Lance Anderson and Peterson's close friend, Chicagoan Audrey Morris
. While most tracks showcase the solo piano, Peterson's longtime bassist, Dave Young
, accompanies Jones ("Celine's Waltz," "Why Think About Tomorrow," "I Remember OP"), Alexander ("Tranquille," "The Gentle Waltz") and performs alone on "Goodbye Old Friend." Morris plays and sings on "Look What You've Done to Me," while Charlap and Rosnes appear separately on "Announcement" and "Love Ballade," respectively, and together on "Sushi."
The songs written for Peterson include Corea's earnest "One for Oscar" (composed especially for this album), and his bravura performance, which leads off Disc 3, is one of the set's myriad highlights. As for others, any song on which Barron, Jones, Legrand, Lewis, Charlap or Rosnes are in the driver's seat is almost by definition a highlight, and none of them is less than inspired, nor are Ozone, Alexander, Anderson, Botos, Clayton, Green, Hiromi, Kauflin or Morris. Jones, who like Peterson was born in Montreal, is closest to his fellow Canadian in spirit, and even though he was roughly eighty years old when the album was recorded, plays with the agility and vigor of someone many years his junior. Lewis, another newly minted octogenarian, shows no deference to Father Time on his opulent features, "If I Love Again" and "Laurentide Waltz," while the (now) eighty-four-year-old Legrand is sublime on "Dream of Me" and "Harcourt Nights." That's not to demean the (relatively) younger lions Botos, Clayton, Hiromi and Kauflin each of whom makes an auspicious impression. And for brio emblematic of Peterson himself, dig Ozone's busy fingers on "Dear Oscar" and "A Little Jazz Exercise."
This is an album on which every participant seems entirely aware that he or she is not merely playing another song but is offering his or her homage to one of the most renowned jazz pianists who ever lived. That fondness and appreciation are palpable from start to finish, which is one (of many) reasons why Oscar, with Love
is an album to be applauded and treasured. Others include immaculate sound, splendid packaging, erudite and inclusive liner notes by Basie trumpeter Scotty Barnhart
, and warm personal remembrances by Peterson's daughter, Celine. An exemplary tribute worthy of the name and the monarch to whom it is inscribed.