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John H. Armwood Jazz History Lecture Nashville's Cheekwood Arts Center 1989

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Oscar Peterson - First night reviews - Times Online

Oscar Peterson - First night reviews - Times OnlineJuly 05, 2005

Jazz

Oscar Peterson
Alyn Shipton at Albert Hall

USUALLY, jazz evenings finish with the band’s best playing, then there’s a tumultuous drum solo, and everyone goes home. By contrast, Oscar Peterson’s return to the Albert Hall began with a drum solo from his newest recruit, Alvin Queen — a brilliant American musician based in Switzerland — before the bassist David Young strolled out to join him, then the guitarist Ulf Wakenius, and finally Peterson himself. The group’s tightest playing was tucked into the first 30 minutes, while everyone was still fresh and energetic, and the rest of the concert was mostly about keeping that initial momentum going.

The warm standing ovation that greeted the pianist was momentarily checked as it became obvious that the big man, now bent with age, was having a painful time of it walking to the piano, and a mixture of affection and concern washed through the crowd. As he settled on his stool and began to play, the years and his physical problems fell away.

Peterson’s most delicate and assured playing came on his own pieces, such as the haunting Love Ballade, with its delicate Chopinesque beginning, its broad dynamic range, and singing piano sound.

Hearing this, there was no doubt that we were listening to one of the world’s greatest jazz pianists, although immediately before it, the rapid runs in Cakewalk, with guitar and piano slightly out of synch, had sounded like platefuls of scrambled egg.

On the equally brisk Backyard Blues the playing was much crisper, and the piano’s goading, bluesy runs and gospelly turnarounds prompted some flying playing from all concerned. Young had the hardest job of the evening, replacing Niels-Henning ├śrsted Pedersen, who died shortly after the tour was announced. In tribute, Young’s solo version of the Danish folksong In the Still of the Woods was beautifully played, with a singing upper register and immaculate projection. What he lacked, however, was Pedersen’s ability to inject swing. Too much of the burden fell on Wakenius, who overcompensated, thereby killing the spirit of relaxation at speed which used to be such a feature of this band.

That said, the quartet played two full sets, there was an admirable balance of familiar hits and new material, and a heartfelt Requiem for Peterson’s contemporaries who are no longer with us. To see and hear this great survivor igniting more than the occasional spark of his youthful genius, six weeks short of his 80th birthday, was a highly emotional experience, and we were all back on our feet when it came time to bid him farewell.

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