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DVD Review: Oscar Peterson – Live in ’63, ’64 & ’65

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Written by Fumo Verde

One of the most notable jazz trios of the ‘60s was the Oscar Peterson Trio. Elegance and professionalism accompany a friendship felt on stage. Peterson is one of jazz’s beloved artists and this DVD, Live in ’63, ’64, & ‘65, gives some insight as to why. Jazz Icons does it once again with a remarkable DVD that highlights three shows in the countries of Sweden, Denmark, and Finland where the weather might be cold, but the reception for the Peterson Trio was more than warm.

The first show was held in Stockholm, Sweden in April 1963. The film is clean and you can see the beads of sweat upon Peterson’s brow, though his work at the piano may seem effortless. He is playing passionately along with bassist and good friend Ray Brown and drummer Ed Thigpen. Both Brown and Thigpen are accomplished musicians themselves and it shows in the solos they play. The show starts off with “Reunion Blues” and as Peterson tickles the ivories Brown and Thigpen keep the beat, letting Peterson release his emotions. Yet, Peterson is also one for “ripping it up” like Rahsaan Roland Kirk or even Sonny Rollins. He plays it smoothly with a calmness that carries through his music. For the second set “Satin Doll” trumpeter Roy Eldridge steps in for a bit and gives the song soul. Both “But Not for Me” and “If Ain’t Necessarily So” are crowd-pleasers although the audience is never shown. “Chicago (That Toddling Town)” finishes off the set with Peterson playing hard on the keys while Brown and Thigpen feed off the energy Peterson is pumping out.

Holbaek, Denmark is where the second show takes place. In a little nightclub on May 2, 1964 Peterson and his band played to a full house in the round. Smoke fills the air as the lights beam down on the band. “On Green Dolphin Street” is on the set list and as I hear it, the song has a totally different feel to it than when played by Kirk or Rollins. Peterson’s version is slower and since the piano is the main player, the song has simpler feel to it. Peterson’s hands glide across the ivories as letting the notes take the crowd on a fantastic journey. His big intro opens the song with a whirlwind feel as Thigpen uses the cymbals adding an orchestral feel. The three men are positioned pretty close to each other making the group more intimate. By looking at one another, they can read each other and prepare for the changes, but you can also read the friendship they share with one another also, by the smirks and smiles each throws off. “Bags’ Groove” is the third song featured at this gig, and here is where Brown shows us what a bass player can do. He plays his stand-up with a passion most bass players wouldn’t reveal. Thigpen and Peterson get into his groove and the whole song makes the crowd go crazy when it’s over.

The third and final show is at the Cultural House in Helsinki, Finland played on March 23, 1965. The set list includes “Yours Is My Heart Alone,” “Mack The Knife,” and “Blues For Smedley.” Peterson opens with “Yours Is My Heart Alone” playing it at a much quicker tempo. This jolts Brown and Thigpen as they happily jump into his groove. The band is on a stage in front of the audience. Clark Terry comes out to play flugelhorn on “Mack The Knife” giving this jam its brass edge. He also plays trumpet on the next tune “Blues for Smedley,” adding that sweet brass pitch which has the crowd clapping for more. “Misty” and “Mumbles” round off the songs at the Cultural House and the crowd is screaming for more.

You can’t beat the DVDs that Jazz Icons brings to the table, and this one has to be one of my favorites so far. Again the liner notes are actually a small booklet giving the listener a background not usually talked about. A DVD like this is an open door to the history and magic that was the jazz scene in the ‘60s. For any lover of jazz this is a great disc and should be picked up as soon as possible.

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