Oscar Peterson In Your Living Room Via Six LP Box Set

Back in the late 1990s Speakers Corner released the 180 gram LP Oscar Peterson The Lost Tapes (MPS 529-096-1) featuring ten tracks recorded between 1965 and 1968 in the Black Forest villa of MPS Records owner and recording engineer Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer.

According to the liner notes, though Peterson spoke little German and Brunner-Schwer little English, the two become close friends. Peterson and his bassist and drummer would break from hectic touring to stay at the secluded villa but they’d also perform in front of thirty or forty invited guests, and Mr. Brunner-Schwer would expertly record the private concerts.

Since Peterson at the time was signed to Norman Granz’s Verve Records, studio recordings were strictly prohibited, but party recordings were not. Originally, the tapes were strictly for Brunner-Schwer’s personal enjoyment.

Once the contract had expired, MPS released a six LP set and in 1992 a 4 CD set. While most of the tracks were recorded “live”, the albums are not live concerts, per se. Rather they are compilations of selections chosen by Brunner-Schwer and Peterson.

What’s most appealing here is that you get the spontaneity and excitement of a “live” performance minus the nightclub chatter. When the songs end, you hear but a few hands clapping.

There have been various reissues in the “Exclusively For My Friends” series and later came the Lost Tapes LP, which was mastered on Neumann Lathe number 320 at Universal Music’ now closed Berliner recording/mastering and tape archive in Hannover, Germany (look for the “320” on the inner groove area of German-pressed LPs from Speakers Corner and other labels).

More recently the German audiophile journalist/producer Dirk Sommer commenced work on a project to reissue a six LP set of these extraordinary private sessions, working from the original master tapes. Unfortunately, the forty years have not been particularly kind to the tapes—as is the case with many tapes from that era and beyond—so Sommer found it necessary to “clean up” the tapes.

However, since this set is part of Edel’s “AAA” series, all of the work was done in the analog domain at Christoph Stickel’s MSM-Studios in Munich.

Nothing was done to alter the extreme stereo spread so popular back then, but subtle equalization was carefully applied to help “freshen up” the sound. Though the work was done in the analog domain, it’s not clear if the tapes were played back, with changes applied while a tape copy was generated that would be used as cutting masters. That would make sense because of the tape’s fragility and because when I visited MSM-Studios during last Spring’s High End Show 2014 in Munich there was no evidence of the facility having a cutting lathe.

So what’s been released here is a box set containing six LPs in laminated gatefold facsimiles of the original MPS releases. As the first volume indicates, the original release featured four LPs, the first of which was called Action. Mr. Brunner-Schwer began recording Peterson in 1963, with annual visits and recordings for the next five years, for a total of around sixty titles.

Action features the trio of Peterson, Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen covering six tunes, including Billy Taylor’s “Easy Walker”, Cole Porter’s “At Long Last Love”, a few Gershwin covers and the familiar “Like Someone in Love” by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke. Despite the album’s title, these mostly ballads are taken at a leisurely, lyrical pace. A photo in the gatefold sleeve shows just how relatively small was the living room space in which these performances were held. The rather dry sound confirms that, but the intimate perspective is particularly pleasing nonetheless and the piano sound Mr Brunner-Schwer achieves strikes an ideal balance between the instrument’s percussive quality and its woody tonality.

The sound varies somewhat from record to record, but the quality is generally very high with Peterson appearing between center and right speaker and Thigpen and Brown to your left. Because the recordings are dry, in the right sized playback room, it’s as if they are playing in your room.

The second volume Girl Talk finds Peterson in a more effusive mood playing with his new and favorite trio, opening with a dynamic version of “On a Clear Day” backed by Sam Jones on bass and Bob Durham on drums. A sixteen minute stately version of “I’m in the Mood For Love” with Louis Hayes on drums completes the side. Side two includes a Peterson solo combining Cole Porter’s “I Concentrate on You” and Mancini’s “Moon River”.

Volume III, The Way I Really Play features only the Jones-Durham trio. Volume IV “My Favorite Instrument” was not recorded before a live audience and it is a Peterson solo album—a real treat for fans. It came about because there was not enough material for the fourth planned album. Peterson didn’t like some of the performances and he’d already recorded some of the selections for Verve. So he spent two days in the villa recording the tunes here, starting with “Someone to Watch Over Me” and ending with Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the A Train”.

Peterson’s playing dazzles with speed, intensity, eclecticism and inventiveness. Brunner-Schwer outdoes himself at the control board. The piano sound here is an “11” and the perspective is Peterson’s with the left hand work left, and the right hand work right but not in the extreme. Dynamics are explosive and the cutting engineer, knowing his audience, kept his hands off the limiter.

Volume V, In a Mellow Mood, features Jones and Durham as does the final volume VI Travelin’ On. In his liner notes Leonard Feather notes that Peterson “…has a hi-fi room filled with all the latest stereo equipment. He has a vast collection of classical and jazz albums carefully filed.”

Peterson passed away December 23, 2007 at age 82. Had he lived a few years longer he probably would have enjoyed listening to this box set in his “hi-fi room filled with all the latest stereo equipment.” He can’t but happily you can.

Peterson fans will love this well-produced, superb sounding, well-pressed, six 180g LP box set that sells for $199.00. For casual listeners it may be more Peterson than they wish to consume. If single albums from the set become available, start with My Favorite Instrument.You won’t stop there!

The embedded video below shows MMS-Studio with one of the original tapes on the Studer. Mastering engineer Christoph Stickel explained in great detail the process he and Sommer went through to produce the final result but unfortunately the GoPro battery died before I could get most if it. I still thought it worthwhile to post.

Music Direct Buy It Now

or92log's picture

The MPS Records website allows you to buy the individual titles in this box. On reel to reel tape! They are a bit pricey, but it's pretty cool to do such a thing. Much respect to MPS Records for the courage to do this.

daveberg's picture

The kinks to the sample tracks for album IV on the MPS website appear to be dead.
No samples -- no download.
And put the whole site in English will you?

Stu Morgenstern's picture

Reading your article reminded me that I had purchased "Exclusively For My Friends" at a flea market or thrift store a while back and had never listened to it (I am wayyyy behind). It is a two record album distributed by Audiofidelity Enterprises and appears to have been produced by BASF. The music is great and so is the sound. Very intimate. If I hadn't read your article, I may have not have heard this gem for a long time. Thanks.

tcassette's picture

Has anyone compared these vinyl versions to the SACD versions released over 10 years ago? I have all of the SACDs of these sessions except "Girl Talk," and they are among the finest sounding recordings I have in any format.

mauidj's picture

Simply Stunning!
This is how to make a reissue on vinyl.

Johnny Vinyl's picture

I'm much more of a RnR/Blues fan, but I've always enjoyed Oscar Peterson and decided to purchase the boxset when it was released. I'm glad I did!

Kirby's picture

I finally bit the big one and bought this box set, WOW money well spent. I already owned two of the SACDs and new I would like all the music in the box. As well I got the Speakers Corner Lp Michael refers to in this article when I first read it back in March, also very good grab it while you can.
As for the sound, it is first rate 10/10 as Michael said and for the Lps vs the SACD. Well maybe i'm a little jaded as i'm on a Lp site not a SACD one and yes the Lps do sound better, how much may depend on your system. Mine is modest by most Stereophile mag systems, but it does the trick.
Now the best part about this purchase is that i got it cheaper than the $199 stated in this article through Amazon.ca. $60 US cheaper due to exchange, I'm Canadian and buy Lps thorugh Amazon.com (US) when I can't find them here and pay over 30 percent exchange + duties so this set will be a very good bargin to you in the US if bought through the Canadian site. Again great box set @ $130 US, grab it while you can
Oh yea Michael mentioned Oscar passing away, I had a chance to see him in a small bar setting here in Vancouver, but it was mid week work night and I passed, i'll see him next time I told myself. Shortly after he was gone. This box does not quite make up for that blunder but it helps...Live Music Is Better, go see those greats before their gone.