Saturday, 23 October 2010

Affecting albums - Night Train - Oscar Peterson

(Click on the links in the song titles to be taken to Spotify for a listen)

Oscar Peterson will need no introduction to jazz fans - one of the greatest jazz pianists to have ever lived, he was born in Canada, but soon came to the attention of music fans all over the world, through his brilliant and expressive playing. He played with almost everyone who was anyone in the jazz world, and surely deserves the epithet "jazz royalty".

The Oscar Peterson Trio, although the personnel changed over time, remains one of the best small combos in jazz, with the members having a high degree of understanding and empathy.

Night Train was a 1962 release from the Trio, which at that stage consisted of Peterson on piano, Ray Brown on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums. It was in fact one of the most successful album releases of Peterson's career, in terms of record sales.

Only one tune on the album - Hymn to Freedom - was written by Peterson himself, most of the other tunes are from other well known composers, such as Duke Ellington (Night Train), Hoagy Carmichael (Georgia on my mind) and Barney Bigard (C Jam Blues). No tune is much longer than five minutes, so this is not one of those jazz albums that has multi-chorus solos. It's tight and to the point.

This works well for Peterson, as he says so much with so few notes. The trio as a whole is seriously swinging on every track, with Thigpen nicely complementing Peterson's playing. In fact one of the highlights of this album is the rhythmic sensibilities of all three players - even on the slower numbers they manage to drive the song forward in a way that's sensitive to the mood of the tune, but still gets your feet tapping.

Peterson's mastery of his instrument is obvious. There is no "grandstanding", just excellent ideas performed with ultimate skill, and tied together in a very musical fashion. Given the trio format, Peterson is doing the lion's share of the work on the album, but that never gets in the way of what he's trying to say musically.

Highlights are the opening tune Night Train, Georgia on my mind (one of the best recorded version of this tune), and The Honeydripper, which really highlights Peterson's virtuosity and inventiveness, and the way he worked so well with the rest of the group.

I keep coming back to this album - once you hear it, I'm sure you will too.

Night Train is available via iTunes, or at Amazon.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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