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Oscar Peterson Trio - Con Alma: Live in Lugano, 64

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    Posted: 07 Dec 2023 at 9:57am

recording of the week,Oscar Peterson Trio - Con Alma: Live in Lugano, 1964

by Barney Whittaker 

Even as we approach the end of this, the latest year of the 21st century, some jazz legends simply keep on continuing to grow. Whilst he may no longer be around to speak for himself in either a verbal or musical sense, it appears that there are still pages to be added to the archival chapters that make up this story of this heartwarming genius, which had seemingly reached its conclusion following the late pianist’s passing in 2007. Recorded on the final night of their European tour before the group would set off for another string of historic dates in Japan, this piece of jazz history has been lovingly retrieved from the vaults by Peterson’s widow, Kelly. Since 2015, she has paired with the Mack Avenue label to release these private gems to a wider audience – Con Alma is the fourth instance of their work together since their initial collaboration on the mammoth Oscar, With Love (2017) boxset. 

A credit to the group’s legacy is that when newcomers and jazz aficionados hear the word ‘trio’, most likely you can guarantee it will evoke for them the sound of the Peterson group – Ray Brown’s thumpingly precise upright bass, the razor-like cymbal work of Ed Thigpen. Above all else, it calls to mind the prancing fingertips of the master pianist, his otherworldly prowess and inimitable knowledge of the ivories beneath him. Between 1958-65, this combo functioned with all the precision of a well-oiled machine, an attribute that would have rendered any other group as perfunctory and cold (were it not for the added spark of Peterson and co.'s  vital humanity, which simply glistens in abundance). Their working relationship, striking in both its serious and playful nature, has revealed these performers to be some of the finest musicians of all time, with every new release reaffirming this status.

From the get-go, Peterson evidently possesses all the skills required to function as a one man band – his description of the stride-school of Art Tatum, very much an overarching inspiration behind his own playing, being “the ability to play the background [...] and make it work like a rhythm section”. That’s not all though, since most (if not all) of his pianistic influences are here on display for us to hear: the illustrious octaves of Errol Garner, the chirpy exuberance of Fats Waller and the schmaltzy fullness of George Shearing. Peterson had the rare gift of imbibing each and every technical innovation in his instrument that had preceded him, before alchemising them into a fully-fledged and up-to-date history of the jazz idiom. 

That’s not to say that Thigpen and Brown are merely left to beat the wind, however. If anything, it is their leader’s highly fruitful and imaginative melodic lines which inspire the group’s steadfast resoluteness to the tunes they perform as well as their loyalty to one another. Together, they whisk their audience through a set of rip-roaring crowd-pleasers, beginning with the carousel whirl of Bill Evans’ ‘Waltz for Debby’. Peterson’s introduction to ‘My One and Only Love’ has all the makings of a showstopper in its own right and yet here, it’s but a well-laced preface to a carefully-executed ballad. ‘Blues for My Landlady’ neatly exhibits the striding philosophy as expressed earlier, featuring several pared-down choruses of succinct double-handed magic and hi-hat accompaniment, before Brown relieves him of his duty while Thigpen is finally allowed to let the dog off the lead. ‘Con Alma’ is a riveting exploration of the trio’s rhythmic vocabulary that sees them firmly united as one heartstopping voice. Arguably the most heated exchange of the night, ‘I Could Write a Book’ is an absolute barnstormer – it’ll take more than just water to quench the fires lit within these rhythm changes. But perhaps the recording’s most beguiling tune is Gershwin’s ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ from Porgy & Bess, which aptly demonstrates what the group do best: apply their seasoned groove to classy numbers full of swing. The results are indeed ravenous.

With archive recordings such as these, present-day listeners occasionally seek out oddities and eccentricities from the audio track in order to piece together an almost forensic reading of the performance as it unfolded all those years ago. The clinking of a dropped glass, the titter of a gaudy audience member, any sign of distraction that may have interrupted the scene at hand and affected the musicians’ flow, thereby etching itself into recorded history. And yet, there is nothing of the sort to be found here, save for the ecstatic (but still reservedly polite) ovation from the thronging crowd of the Teatro Apollo, Lugano. With the venue since having been demolished, this exclusive recording and the collective presence gathered on it are now assigned to the vaults, their memories committed to tape but their hushed reverence a reminder of that thrilling night in ‘64.

 

from www.prestomusic.com



Edited by snobb - 07 Dec 2023 at 9:58am
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