Album reviews

Oscar Peterson Trio – ‘On a Clear Day’ (rec. 1971)

Oscar Peterson Trio – On a Clear Day
(Mack Avenue 1199. Live in Zurich, 1971. Album review by Len Weinreich)

Oscar Peterson (known as OP) was a piano giant with phenomenal technique who synthesised all the lessons he’d learned from his influential deities: Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Mead ‘Lux’ Lewis, Bill Basie, Milt Buckner (daddy of block chords), and Erroll Garner (wizard of tension and release).

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Not content with being a scintillating soloist, he was also one the greatest of jazz’s second fiddles: an eloquent accompanist capable of masterful understatement, sensitive comping and inspirational chords behind immortals like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and Roy Eldridge.

This engaging album recorded live in Zurich is a meeting of the masters: OP in peak form working with Danish bassist, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen (NHØP) and steadfast drummer Louis Hayes (apparently, this trio’s only recorded live gig) in a breathtaking exercise of extra-sensory perception or, at least a level of rapport bordering on witchcraft.

Hayes’ drumming opens The Lamp is Low, DeRose and Shefter’s plundering of Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte, before NHØP delivers a zippy masterclass in a number of impossible things to do on a double bass. OP spins sprightly variations, inserting a series of neat quotes before bringing NHØP and Hayes to the foreground.

It would appear that Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Younger Than Springtime might be the only song from their musical South Pacific to achieve jazz standard status. OP and NHØP bat the delicate melody back and forth as a duet, until OP unleashes his inner Milt Buckner with an inspired sequence of locked hands, even throwing in a quote from the composer’s There’s A Small Hotel. NHØP’s solo is a tribute to faultless intonation.

OP opens Lerner and Lane’s On A Clear Day, punctuating the melodic phrases with swooping glissandi before NHØP nudges him into a serious Basie band groove, developing lengthy passages and riffs with hands locked over a thrusting four-on-the-floor walking bass. Hayes is simply remarkable throughout and the enthusiastic audience agrees.

Hague and Howitt’s Young And Foolish starts with a delicate out-of-tempo statement interspersed with long keyboard runs before NHØP makes his entry surreptitiously on the bass equivalent of tip toes as OP makes pretty with ecstatic trilling at the treble end. Leaning into one another, they construct a down-home tension to launch Mandel and Webster’s A Time For Love before modulating into a rhythm that forces hips to swing, propelled by power from Hayes.

Benny Goodman’s Soft Winds opens with breezy chords from OP with stalwart support from NHØP, sprinkling fragments of Down By The Riverside before becoming a piano/bass duet with OP tinkling filigree figures on the top right of the keyboard. Given the infectious level of the swing generated, audience toes must have worn a groove in the Kongresshaus’ carpets.

In Berlin, in 1928, Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht wrote “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer” for Die Dreigroschenoper, never imagining its future trajectory as the jazz mega-hit Mack The Knife. OP approaches Weill’s menacing melody unaccompanied, with rhapsodic flourishes exhibiting a right hand that can do no wrong before plunging into an episode of stride piano straight out of the Teddy Wilson playbook. NHØP sounds a rumbling figure on the bass and doubles the tempo, introducing a more rumbustious mood, preparing us for a high-speed solo that’s a tour-de-force.

Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s waltz Where Do I Go From Here is gently swung in ¾ time, OP dancing over the treble notes with nimble fingers and further opportunity for NHØP to impress with limitless technique and precise intonation.

The album closes with On The Trail from Ferde Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite, an atmospheric chunk of Americana that the trio (one Canadian, one Dane and a single American) handles with verve, wit and muscular swing. After NHØP’s solo, OP doubles the tempo before closing with a grand finale in clouds of swishing cymbals.

Rolf Bormann was the original Radio Zurich sound engineer and the mixing and mastering for this production was engineered by Blaise Favre. With OP on top form, jazz piano albums don’t come better than this.

Recorded live at Zurich Kongresshaus, Zurich, Switzerland, November 24, 1971

LINK: Buy On a Clear Day

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