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Music Review: Oscar Pettiford – Lost Tapes

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Bebop bassist Oscar Pettiford made his reputation playing with many of the cutting edge jazz artists of the ’40s and ’50s. An innovative force, his work with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and a host of other jazz giants is often credited with expanding and extending the melodic range and solo possibilities of an instrument more often than not limited to the rhythm section. Late in the ’40s, while recovering from a broken arm, he added the cello to his repertoire. He was able to demonstrate its possibilities as a jazz instrument.

A few years before his death in 1960 when he had relocated to Europe, he did some recording in Germany with a varied cohort of European musicians and an American visitor or two, recordings now available under the title Lost Tapes in the Jazz Haus series. The album consists of studio recordings from 1958 and 1959 and a live recording from a December 1958 performance at Stadthalle Karlsruhe, a total of 16 songs in all, running over 73 minutes. It is an excellent album that makes a convincing case for Pettiford’s achievement as an artist.

There are some glowing treatments of standard tunes. In George Gershwin’s “But Not For Me” which leads off the album, Pettiford works in an elegant duet with trumpet player Dusko Goykovich. The classic “Sophisticated Lady” follows with the soulful saxophone of Lucky Thompson, as well as a masterly solo from the bass. There is a swinging version of “A Smooth One” that begins with the bass and features the clarinet of Rolf Kühn. Hans Koller handles the tenor sax on his own compositions, “O.P.” and “Anusia,” as well as a number of other tracks. The bass solo work in tunes like “Anusia” and “The Nearness of You” illustrates what Pettiford could do with his instrument. When he takes a solo, he can make that bass sing.

The Jerome Kern standard “Yesterdays” gets a unique idiosyncratic reading featuring drummer Jimmy Pratt. There are live and recorded versions of “All the Things You Are” and Pettiford’s own “Blues in the Closet.” The live version of which is the longest track on the set and closes the album with some straight-ahead bebop. Attila Zoller does some intricate solo work on guitar and Hans Hammerschmid swings on piano, before Pettiford takes over. The whole is a tour de force than ends the album on a high note.

Like other albums in the Jazz Haus releases of material from the archives of Südwestrundfunk, the German broadcaster, Lost Tapes gives jazz fans an opportunity to hear some of the greatest jazz musicians at the top of their game, performing before very appreciative audiences who brought out the best in them. Album after album is filled with exciting music, and they still have hours and hours more on tap.

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