Sunday, March 14, 2010

Oscar Peterson-Exclusively For My Friends

I finished listening to Oscar Peterson's 4-CD set "Exclusively For My Friends" last week, and it is a great introduction to this very talented jazz pianist. These recordings, which date from 1963-68, were taped in Germany at the private home of a record producer. For whatever reason, they were apparently some of Peterson's favorite recordings of himself. Considering that Peterson recorded heavily from the early 1950's into the late 1990's, that's really saying something. So what separates these sessions from the other 100 or more records that Peterson made? I don't have an easy answer for that, but it sounds like Oscar was very relaxed when these sessions were made, and maybe he felt that these sessions captured his style better than any others. (One album from these sessions was called, "The Way I Really Play.") They're certainly my favorites of all the Oscar Peterson CD's that I own. It feels like he and his trio have more room to stretch out than on his 1950's sessions for Verve.

Oscar Peterson was a true virtuoso. He was probably most influenced by the playing of Art Tatum, and he is probably the pianist who comes closest to replicating Tatum's style. Which means that Oscar played a lot of notes, very quickly, and he wasn't afraid to show off now and then. Oscar Peterson and Ahmad Jamal are kind of at opposite ends of the jazz piano spectrum. Where Ahmad would play one note, Oscar would play ten. Personally, I tend to prefer Jamal or Dave Brubeck's playing over Peterson's, but that's just a matter of taste. There is no denying the immense talent that Peterson brought to the keyboard. Peterson's playing was always impeccable. Like Tatum, his technique was almost overpowering. There's almost too much going on in his playing. Listen to his solo rendition of "Someone To Watch Over Me," on Disc 4, for a great example of his style. As the song starts, Peterson keeps interrupting the melody with fancy fills and expansive runs up and down the keyboard. It's as if so many ideas are simply pouring out of him at the same time that he can barely get the melody out. It's incredible to listen to.

The last CD on this set is all solo piano, which is a rarity for Peterson. I would think that, given his virtuosic technique, he would have recorded more solo albums, but he almost always worked in a trio format. (How other players kept up with him, I don't know!) His solo version of "Lulu's Back in Town" is another great example of his blindingly fast skills. But Peterson was also a skilled interpreter of ballads, as his lovely version of "Emily" on disc 3 shows. This whole set features great interplay between Peterson and his trio, which includes Ray Brown and Sam Jones on bass, (but not at the same time) and Ed Thigpen on drums. It's 4 CD's of great trio playing, and if you're an Oscar Peterson fan and you don't own this set, you really need to pick it up.

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