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Oscar Peterson: Unmistakable

Jack Bowers By

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The first thing Unmistakable on this recording is the pianist: it can only be the incomparable Oscar Peterson, who, if not the greatest jazz pianist who ever lived, is certainly among the top four or five. This scrapbook, however, is not, strictly speaking, a performance by Peterson but a "re-performance," taken from DVDs of three concerts—one from the mid-'70s, the others from the early '80s—and re-recorded using the Zenph Sound Innovations re-performance system. Peterson's original performances are electronically and digitally enhanced to theoretically produce the clearest and most natural recorded sound that is humanly possible (at least to this point in time).

Tracks 1-8 on this splendid album are presented in Zenph re-performance stereo, then repeated (tracks 9-16) in binaural stereo, "the ultimate headphone experience," so the liner notes say. What exactly is a Zenph re-performance? Rather than try to explain it in layman's terms, here is what Zenph founder John Q. Walker writes:
Zenph Studios takes audio recordings and turns them back into live performances, precisely replicating what was originally recorded. The Zenph software- based process extracts every musical nuance of a recorded performance, and stores the data in a high-resolution digital file. These re-performance files contain every detail of how every note in the composition was played, including pedal actions, volume, and articulation—all with micro-second timings.


Further:
The re-performance files are played back on a real acoustic piano [in this case a Boesendorfer Imperial, which Peterson preferred] fitted with sophisticated computers and hardware, letting the listener 'sit in the room' as if he or she were there when the original recording was made. The re-performance is then recorded afresh, using the latest microphones and recording techniques, to modernize monophonic or poor- quality recordings of great performances.
Whether you follow that or not, what is "unmistakable" is that someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to make sure the sound on this superb "re-performance" is unerring and unblemished.

Having listened to the stereo and binaural stereo versions of Peterson's solo-piano voyages, I must confess that I really can't tell the difference. My guess is that "the ultimate headphone experience" requires "the ultimate headphones" (mine are mid-level Sennheiser 457s) and the kind of ears that are able to discern and appreciate minuscule changes in recorded sound—in other words, the kind of ears I've never had. While there's no doubting that the Zenph sound is remarkable, it is best appreciated by audiophiles, for whom I suppose this and other albums like it are designed. On the other hand, this is Oscar Peterson, playing piano as only he could, and if the sound is immaculate, so much the better.

Track Listing: Body and Soul; Back Home Again in Indiana; The Man I Love; Who Can I Turn To; When I Fall in Love; Duke Ellington medley (Take the “A” Train/In a Sentimental Mood)/C Jam Blues/Lady of the Lavender Mist/(All of a Sudden) My Heart Sings/Satin Doll/Caravan); Con Alma; Goodbye.

Personnel: Oscar Peterson: piano.

Title: Unmistakable | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Sony Masterworks

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