If I understand what Andrew Litton is doing in his new solo piano album, A Tribute to Oscar Peterson, it is something akin to an Elvis imitator or one of those Beatles tribute bands. As he explains it, he is playing transcriptions of Peterson’s arrangements taken right off his CDs, replicating what the master had done. Now since Litton is quite obviously a musician who knows his way around the piano, his performances certainly do justice to the originals, at least in the sense that he plays with a joy and passion for the music.
But, and there is a but, the thing that made Peterson a great jazz pianist was his creativity in the moment. It wasn’t just that he played beautifully; it was that he was creating while he played. I’m not sure that a more creative approach to the great pianist’s music, one that took his arrangements to another level, wouldn’t have made a more effective tribute. It would certainly have been closer to the spirit of his work.
That said, if you can’t have Peterson playing Peterson, Litton, a classical conductor and soloist, is a worthy substitute. And if he isn’t primarily a jazz pianist, he is a pianist with talent who understands how to interpret a piece of music. He understands color and harmony, but must importantly he understands Oscar Peterson.
The album features Litton performing a dozen tunes Peterson culled from the Great American Songbook, as well as a jazz classic or two. The set opens on the upbeat with a romp through Harry Warren/Al Dubin’s “Lulu’s Back in Town.” The mood shifts with the tightly woven drama of Thelonious Monk’s “’Round Midnight” and a vintage take on the classic, “Body and Soul.”
There is special emphasis on the song Litton calls his “all time favorite Oscar track,” a song he has been playing as an occasional encore, “Little Girl Blue.” There are fine versions of “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “Basin Street Blues,” “How Long Has This Been Going On,” and “The Nearness of You.” The set ends with a smashing take on “Perdido,”
This is great music played with real skill.
The album is recorded as a hybrid disc that plays on both CD and SACD Surround players.