A Tribute to Oscar Peterson

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Oscar Peterson
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: A Tribute to Oscar Peterson
WORKS: Improvisations by Oscar Peterson: Lulu’s Back in Town; Round Midnight; Body and soul; A Child is Born; Little Girl Blue; Take the ‘A’ Train; Basin Street Blues; How Long Has This Been Going On; The Nearness of You; Over The Rainbow; Things Ain’t What They Used to Be; Perdido
PERFORMER: Andrew Litton (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-2034

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Among classical pianists, jazz has become not just a source of fascination, but repertoire. Twenty years ago, Steven Mayer recorded an album of Art Tatum transcriptions, and Jean-Yves Thibaudet paid similar homage to Bill Evans, while the ever-individual Joanna MacGregor has channelled performances by Erroll Garner and Thelonious Monk.

The latest project recasting brilliant improvisations as concert works is Andrew Litton’s A Tribute to Oscar Peterson. The Canadian jazz master makes a particularly suitable candidate for classical transcription because his  technique was legendary. A mighty virtuoso, he was proud that his teacher had a direct pedagogical link with Liszt. Indeed, it was the virtuosity Peterson displayed on his recordings that first thrilled the teenage Andrew Litton, and which he ardently recreates on this disc. It’s filled with bravura flights on evergreen standards – Round Midnight, Little Girl Blue, Perdido – teeming with the torrents and cascades of swirling sound that were Peterson’s trademark, the amazing double-handed runs and tremolos that leave the listener gasping.

Ballads predominate, providing  ample scope for embellishment.  However, despite variation in dynamics, an overall sameness of colour and texture  imparts a certain uniformity. But then this disc is less about jazz’s sound of surprise than sheer delight in dazzlement. And these pieces may find their way into recitals – coming soon to an encore near you. I guess, in cold blood, I’d give it three stars for performance, five for sound.

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Geoffrey Smith