Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

March/April 2016: Aaron Diehl

Oscar Peterson (1925-2007): Night Train

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Although already known in Canada, the name Oscar Peterson wasn’t widely recognized elsewhere until Norman Granz presented him to the rest of the world in a Jazz at the Philharmonic concert at Carnegie Hall in 1949. That dazzling performance launched his stunning soar to the top, where he has remained unchallenged ever since.

In Gene Lee’s book Jazz Lives, Hank Jones (who Peterson says was his teacher) said, “Oscar Peterson is head-and-shoulders above any pianist alive today. Oscar is at the apex. He is the crowning ruler of all pianists in the jazz world.” Few would question that statement.

Peterson has played solo recitals all over the world, worked with the biggest of the big bands, mastered gospel, European classical music, and, always, the blues. But from the time he started leading trios in the early 1950s, it is the trio that is regarded by many—including O.P. himself—as the best, certainly his favourite, setting for his unlimited gifts.

That has never been more clearly articulated than in this re-release of the famous Night Train album [Verve #3145214402] featuring the Oscar Peterson Trio. It is not just one of the talented trios that he has continued to lead on stages all over the world for decades. This is the Oscar Peterson Trio—O.P., Ray Brown, and Ed Thigpen—the combination of artists that shows musical communication at its most sensitive. It’s been said that Ray Brown is to the bass what Oscar Peterson is to the piano. The bass solo he delivers in the trio’s treatment of Duke Ellington’s “Night Train” leaves no doubt about that. And Ed Thigpen, “the thinking man’s drummer,” lays down a tight rhythmic carpet throughout.

The re-release of Night Train includes six tunes that didn’t make it to the album when it was first recorded in 1962, including a lovely treatment of two unlikely jazz tunes, Cole Porter’s “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” and “Volare,” notable here for the Ahmad Jamal-type chord voicings Peterson brings to it. The seventeen tracks are mostly jazz standards, but the music ranges from lively swing numbers to breathtakingly beautiful ballads. The one original song is Peterson’s own “Hymn to Freedom.”

The album notes promise that “no material here requires musicological analysis: the music speaks for itself.” And indeed it does. The tunes range from Ellington’s classic “C-Jam Blues,” where the trio abides by Ellington’s 1942 arrangement, and Milt Jackson’s “Bags’ Groove” blues anthem, which Peterson plays in the key of G rather than the customary F, to “Hymn to Freedom,” which closes out the CD with gospel-like grace.

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