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On the Town (Live Town Tavern, Toronto)

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Album Review

This reissue of Oscar Peterson's live Toronto recording in the Desert Island Discs series at Verve brings to light the question that jazz audiences were debating at the time. With Peterson's legerdemain rhythmic possibilities, his knotting, shimmering waves of notes, his insanely huge harmonic structures, and his dense clusters played in every solo, half the jazz populace wondered if all the swinging noodling might be a skillful medicine show while the other half considered it genius. No matter. One thing that everyone agreed on: No matter how busy his busy got — and this album illustrates the rule since it's in a live setting — Peterson always, always swung, particularly with Herb Ellis on guitar and Ray Brown on bass. The set opens with "Sweet Georgia Brown" and it's all bets off as to what Peterson will do next. He skitters from one melodic possibility to the next while Ellis creates a dynamic flow of fresh ideas to keep the music full and bright. There are blues here, and they are gutbucket blues. They come from Ellis' guitar during this late '50s period more than at any other time in his life. But they come from Brown and Peterson too, and that's where the argument loses the wind in its sails: Everything this trio played was rooted in a blues so pervasive, so swinging, so hot, it could not be anything but truly fine jazz. Peterson's musical appetite matched his physical stature, and it is reflected in the selections here, which all seem to segue into one another: "Should I," "When the Lights Are Low," "Pennies From Heaven," "Moonlight in Vermont," and others through to "Love Is Here to Stay." All are reinvented and reinterpreted through the science of harmonic invention and rhythmic interval unique to this Oscar Peterson Trio. And while the plates and glasses rattle and tinkle, the jazz continues to burn, full of joy and light and just a hint of smoke. In 1958 this was a night to remember; in the 21st Century it's a disc to memorize in the depths of the heart.


Born: 15 August 1925 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Oscar Peterson was one of the greatest piano players of all time. A pianist with phenomenal technique on the level of his idol, Art Tatum, Peterson's speed, dexterity, and ability to swing at any tempo were amazing. Very effective in small groups, jam sessions, and in accompanying singers, O.P. was at his absolute best when performing unaccompanied solos. His original style did not fall into any specific idiom. Like Erroll Garner and George Shearing, Peterson's distinctive playing formed during the...
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