CD Review: OSCAR, WITH LOVE (Various Artists)

by Tony Frankel on May 20, 2018

in CD-DVD

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OSCAR, WITH LOVE AND BEAUTY
AND RESPECT AND…

It’s a simple idea that could easily have caused higgledy-piggledy results. In fact, many tribute albums involving various artists contain tracks that are jarringly inconsistent and smack of commercialism. Not so here. Kelly Peterson, the widow of Oscar Peterson (1925-2007), personally produced this extraordinary three-disc set which not only pays tribute to one of the greatest jazz pianists we will ever know, it introduces us to ten never-before-recorded Peterson compositions. The 36 tracks – performed beautifully by 16 present-day crackerjack piano virtuosi – include 7 new pieces written in Oscar’s memory and 19 of his widely known works. The invited pianists were chosen by Kelly because they were either close friends of Oscar or those whom he admired.

To say that this compilation is dripping in love is an understatement. Coinciding with the ninetieth anniversary of the legendary jazz man’s birth, the recordings took place in Peterson’s private studio between October, 2014 and September, 2015 in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada (he was born in Montreal). The impeccable sound is certainly due to recording and mastering engineer Blaise Favre, but from the fact that each artist played on Peterson’s personal Bösendorfer Imperial piano (the one with 97 keys!).

Scotty Barnhart, leader of the Count Basie Orchestra (see review here), listened to the music upon completion and wrote amazing liner notes that put the music into context; Kelly and Oscar’s daughter Céline, also added touching stories. And while the notes are great, it’s unnecessary to understand and embrace this sparkling, heartfelt effort, as Kelly has proved herself to be an astoundingly sensitive producer: The first disc is a perfect introduction – a mixture of elegance, blues, swing and introspection; the second disc is all ballads, and it never gets maudlin; and the third is again a mixture, but mostly with original compositions played by their music-makers: Chick Corea (“One for Oscar”); Makoto Ozone (“Dear Oscar”); Oliver Jones (“I Remember OP” [he’s joined by bassist Dave Young, who does a swell solo turn on “Goodbye Old Friend”]); Hiromi (“Oscar’s New Camera”); Lance Anderson (“OP’s Boogie”); Monty Alexander (“Trust”); and Robi Botos (“Emmanuel”). The tribute’s only vocal comes from pianist Audrey Morris, who accompanies herself beautifully on the 1929 tune, “Look What You’ve Done to Me.”

Surprises abound, especially in how great everyone sounds, as if they knew they were up to something special. The sensitive Bill Charlap (“Announcement”); the forever young Michel Legrand (transcendent on “Dream of Me” and “Harcourt Nights”); and – two of my favorite young lions of the jazz piano world: the old soul of Clark Terry protégé and jazz pianist Justin Kauflin (“On Danish Shore”), star of the documentary Keep On Keepin’ On, Alan Hicks’ ode to the friendship between teacher and student (see Stage and Cinema‘s review); and the astoundingly inventive Gerald Clayton (Peterson’s fantastic “Hymn to Freedom”). This extraordinarily accessible package is perfect for jazz aficionados, newbies, and those who simply appreciate dreamy piano playing. What a winner.

Oscar, with Love (various artists)
Mack Avenue
available in two formats:
standard CD package: 3-CD digipak with 24 page booklet
deluxe CD package: 3-CDs in deluxe hardback with 100+ page book
released November 17, 2017
available at Amazon or Mack Avenue

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