Oscar Peterson's "Jazzified" Blues Album Reissued on Double 45 by ORG And Speakers Corner
Yet while Peterson's music was hardly challenging or grandly innovative, his virtuosic playing and unerring good taste were equally appealing to the aficionados.
Norman Granz brought Peterson to America in 1949. He made his Carnegie Hall debut and returned to Canada but then joined Granz's Jazz at The Philharmonic touring group and formed a duo with bassist Ray Brown, whose association with Peterson would continue throughout both men's lifetimes.
Peterson expanded the group to a trio, adding former Nat King Cole Trio guitarist Irving Ashby, followed by Barney Kessel and then Herb Ellis who remained with Peterson for five years. When Ellis left the by then very popular touring and recording trio, Peterson, thinking the guitarist was irreplaceable, opted to add the drummer Ed Thigpen.
The trio of Peterson, Brown and Thigpen proved to be as popular if not more so than the guitar trio as evidenced by this easy going collection of jazzified blues numbers recorded in Los Angeles December 15th and 16th, 1962 that in some ways sounds like a Modern Jazz Quartet album minus the vibes (the trio covers Milt Jackson's iconic "Bags Groove"). Like MJQ drummer Connie Kay, Thigpen was a wire brush master.
Many of the tunes like the familiar title tune, "Night Train" (also known later as Duke Ellington's "Happy Go Lucky Local") were first heard by most in big band arrangements that Peterson manages to re-invent without losing any of the color or even the dynamic shadings the larger ensembles more easily produced.
"C Jam Blues" with lyrics added became "Duke's Place." Other tunes include "Georgia on my Mind" the aforementioned "Bags Groove" and the joyfully forlorn "Things Ain't What They Used to Be."
Though this album is more relaxing comfort food than a challenging listen, the trio's virtuosity never fails to entertain. You can sit and groove on just Ray Brown's work and have a rewarding experience. And if the restrictions of the musical format eventually become a bit monotonous, you can always look forward to Peterson's "Hymn To Freedom", the album's closer. Written as the Civil Rights movement was gathering momentum, the song communicates a fiery, stirring dignity and pride that words don't manage quite as effectively.
The album was probably produced at Radio Recorders, long considered one of the, if not the best studio in Hollywood and the sound here will do nothing to diminish that reputation. With Brown left, Peterson center and Thigpen right, you've got a front row seat to the proceedings. Brown's bass in particularly is superbly recorded while Peterson's piano manages to mostly avoid the warm bloat that afflicted many keyboard recordings of the era.
You have a choice of the $35 Speakers Corner 33 1/3 edition probably mastered from a tape copy and pressed at Pallas or the $60 double 45 from ORG mastered by Bernie Grundman, said to be from the original tapes and pressed at RTI. The ORG packaging and sound are top notch but the Speakers Corner version isn't that for behind sonically. If you're considering picking up this entertaining, well-recorded set, whether or not the $25 difference is worth it, is your call.