Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Oscar Peterson & Milt Jackson

Very Tall
Verve V6 8429

Recorded September 16th-18th, 1961

Side One

1. On Green Dolphin Street
2. Heartstrings
3. Work Song

Side Two

1. John Brown's Body
2. A Wonderful Guy
3. Reunion Blues



If you're looking for laid-back bluesiness in jazz, you could do a lot worse than have a listen to anything by Oscar Peterson. The Canadian pianist was born in 1925, and could play the piano by the age of 5! A brush with TB a few years later gave him plenty of practice time, and he emerged in the late 1940s as a talented jazz improviser. Introduced to the US by Norman Granz in 1949, he went on to record extensively for Granz's Verve and Pablo labels. This 1961 date sees Peterson and his usual sidemen of Brown and Thigpen meeting up with the legendary Milt Jackson.

Jackson's sound is as instantly recognisable as ever, and fits like a glove into Peterson's bluesy style. In fact, the pieces here are less formally structured than a lot of what the Modern Jazz Quartet were up to at the same time, making this date feel a lot more relaxed than a contemporary MJQ record. The music has a strong blues feeling, especially the upbeat tracks like the standout 'Work Song'. That track begins with a strong theme statement before heading off into a Jackson improvisation that's ably supported by Peterson and his trio. But Peterson isn't just here to provide support to the visiting soloist, and comes back himself with a crackling solo where he shows off both his outstanding technical skill and superlative improvisational sense. It puts Jackson in the shade, and to my mind scotches all those who say that Peterson on this album simply acts as supporting player for the famous vibraphonist (such as this review, and this one). I also like their reading of 'John Brown's Body' - not a tune I usually enjoy, here it's given a fine blues treatment with a Peterson solo that once again beats Bags' attempt hands down.

Being on Verve means that this album is, thanks to their reissue program, freely available. I have seen reports that the remastering isn't up to much, with a heavy bass that is at odds with the delicately nuanced playing of Jackson and Peterson. Hunting down a vinyl copy is very much recommended (try eBay for starters).

No comments: