Mack Avenue Records: MAC 1151 (2 CD Set)
Oscar Peterson (piano); Joe Pass (guitar); Dave Young (bass); Martin Drew (drums)
Recorded at Kulffuuritalo, Helsinki, Finland, November 17th 1987 by the Finnish Broadcasting Company.
This well packaged and presented twofer from Mack Avenue appears to fill a gap in the Peterson discography between his final album for Norman Granz’s Pablo label, which incidentally featured the same group, and a move to Telarc which saw him re-united with his old buddies, Herb Ellis and Ray Brown for a spell.
It might well have been entitled `Time for a Break` because it was recorded at the end of an arduous tour that had begun in Brazil in the previous month before embarking on a European leg that took in Switzerland, France, Germany, Belgium, Norway and Sweden eventually arriving in Finland where their concert was captured in this impeccable, previously unreleased, recording by Finnish Radio.
Far from sounding jet lagged the group seem supercharged by the prospect of an upcoming break and play their socks off with a `de-mob` happy abandon before an ecstatic audience.
It is obvious from the joi de vivre generated that Peterson and his team were out to please and there is quite a bit of `playing to the gallery` projection in evidence that from to time sounds a bit over the top;
nevertheless, whilst the session might lack the sophistication of his best studio recordings there is plenty to impress in terms of technical brilliance, spontaneity and sheer exhilaration.
The first disc contains performances of Peterson originals opening with `Cool Walk`, a tune that sounds remarkably like `Doxy`, with Young and Drew establishing the groove as a lead in to Pass and then Oscar joining them on stage.
Like `Sushi` which follows it achieves an almost incendiary workout with flying fingering on all fronts.
The pace then slows down with a tender `Love Ballade`, a vehicle for the pianist’s customary eloquent romanticism which also contains a warm toned feature spot for the group’s Canadian bassist, Dave Young.
They follow with a twenty plus minute version of a piece formerly known as `The Bach Suite.’
Presented as a three-part melody, `A Salute to Bach` bears no resemblance to the Jacques Loussier school of Bach interpretation and little to the Baroque master himself beyond some contrapuntal exchanges between piano and guitar and pounding toccata -like chords.
It’s an obvious crowd pleaser and taken in the heat of the moment must have generated some excitement but personally I found it rather brash and heavy handed listening to it in the solitary setting of my home environment.
Far more amenable to my ears is the closing number of disc one, another Peterson burner which features fleet picking from Joe Pass and a torrential drum break from British drummer and long – time Peterson associate, Marin Drew, whose crisp metrics are always manage to match the pianist’s speed of execution.
The piece finishes with catchy stride piano passage and then we are on to the second disc.
This opens with Oscar introducing his musicians before launching into the Johnny Mandel piece that lends its title to the album.
After a heavily embroidered rubato prelude Peterson is joined by Pass who executes a similarly embellished cadenza of great sensitivity which receives ecstatic audience acclaim before they engage each other in a meticulously expressed conversation.
A jaunty `How High the Moon ` provides a further opportunity for their musical digressions before the group re-assembles for a pulse quickening version of Benny Goodman’s `Soft Winds`.
Oscar’s solo spot comes next, a version of Bill Evans’ `Waltz for Debby` which owes a lot to the florid stylistic conventions of Art Tatum whilst for his solo contribution Joe Pass chooses `When You Wish Upon a Star` to demonstrate his peerless technique and interpretive acumen.
The band then re-unite for a Duke Ellington melody which showcases everyone’s talent, moving from a bouncy `A Train` through an easy swinging `Don’t Get Around Much Anymore` and a suitably reverential `Come Sunday` for solo piano before launching into breath -taking exchange between Peterson and Pass which eventually emerges as `C-Jam` Blues.
The tension then eases ever so slightly for a flamboyant solo piano take on Billy Strayhorn’s `Lush Life` before segueing into an audacious version of `Caravan` that is almost a parody of concert piano grandiloquence until guitar, bass and drums, join in for an absolutely headlong ride-out.
Finally, with a climactic flourish, and as if enough excitement hadn’t been meted for one evening, they charge through Oscar’s `Blues Etude` which at one point transposes into a furious boogie.
I’ll guarantee you’ll be dripping with perspiration in the wake of this experience and I imagine the audience must have left the concert hall, going out into the cool Helsinki night, with their clothes sticking to them!
Reviewed by Euan Dixon