Listening to pianist Oscar Peterson always triggers a profound sense of nostagia. The very first jazz recording I ever owned was a Peterson trio disc, long since lost to the winds. The memory sticks, though. Oscar Peterson has made a huge number of recordings in a variety of settings, from solo to orchestral, from piano to clavichord. His swinging style remains readily recognizable, owing obvious debts (as many critics have noted) to the crispy romps of Art Tatum and the deep lyricism of Nat Cole. On this recording he's joined by long-term collaborators Herb Ellis on guitar and Ray Brown on bass. It's hard to imagine more sympathetic and intuitive companions. This trio has made a huge impact on jazz; the absence of a drummer evokes both freedom and responsibility from the group.
Tenderly documents an unreleased live Vancouver performance from August, 1958. Given the year and the fact that this was recorded live, the sound quality is outstanding. Peterson leads his group through a series of pieces ranging from soft ballads to racing up-tempo numbers. He takes liberties combining disparate styles in ways that preserve the overall mood and tone of each piece. Peterson's "The Music Box Suite," for example, engages a childlike simplicity of tone and harmony up front, only to proceed onward into gentle jazz lyricism. Ellis's "Pogo" jumps from straightforward unison lines into a full-fire blues jaunt. An underappreciated guitarist, Ellis can back the group up, push it forward, or ride gleefully on top. And while Peterson's virtuosity and melodicism are long the subject of legend, Ray Brown offers an understated intuition that distinguishes him as one of the best listeners in the history of jazz.
Make no mistake: this is a mainstream jazz recording. It offers tasty swing and a fine sense of spontaneity, but there's no sense of going where no man has gone before. Nevertheless, it's satisfying to see this fine celebration, worthy of comparison to Peterson's best, finally brought to light.
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