In Tune – The Oscar Peterson Trio + The Singers Unlimited – MPS   0212401MSW 32:29****:

( Oscar Peterson Trio : Oscar Peterson – piano; Jiri Mraz – bass; Louis Hayes – drums; The Singers Unlimited : Gene Puerling; Don Shelton; Len Dresslar; Bonnie Herman )

Between 1963 and 1968 and belatedly in 1995 Oscar Peterson along with several iterations of bassists and drummers recorded a series of trio and one solo album that were produced live by Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer for his MPS label, and were held privately by him, and for  contractual reason were not available until 1968. More recently an eight CD box set was released that covered the six individual albums plus two volumes  of ten tracks comprising the unreleased Lost Tapes.

In addition to the above noted sessions, Oscar Peterson also recorded a couple of other albums for MPS including Reunion Blues with Milt Jackson and the subject of this review In Tune with The Singers Unlimited( TSU). Peterson discovered TSU and introduced them to MPS as he believed that their intricate vocal harmonization would have a broad audience.

The genesis of TSU was the Hi-Lo’s with two of its members Gene Puerling and Don Shelton being part of each group. A much longer history of this style of group goes back to the early 1950s in Paris ,where Blossom Dearie formed a group call The Blue Stars. This group later morphed into The Swingle Singers who then provided inspiration to another Paris based entity called The Double Six of Paris. Today’s incarnation of this singing style is the Manhattan Transfer.

At the heart of this release is the intricate vocal arrangements for TSU by Gene Puerling, aided by multi-track recording that makes the four voices sound like choir, all of which were overdubbed on the trio tracks laid down by Peterson and his cohorts. The well-known recording prowess of Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer brought out the best sound that aided in this endeavour.  For TSU, this recording began a decade long relationship with the label and its stellar recording technology that suited the group perfectly. The group never performed live during its existence.

However it would be a misrepresentation to suggest that there is a lot of Peterson here. There is not, and his role is primarily as an accompanist, although a very fine one indeed.

For TSU, this session is focused on ballads, although the opener “Sesame Street” is the groups version of a swinger. If intricate vocal harmony is your thing, even though it might be electronically driven, there is not an undeserving track on this album. There are a couple of highlights including the Michel Legrand ballad “Once Upon A Summer Time” a Brazilian jaunt in Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “Children’s Game” and a pensive presentation of “The Shadow Of Your Smile”.

Although this is a brief outing by today’s standards, sometimes good things come in small packages.

Sesame Street
It Never Entered My Mind;
Childrens Game
The Gentle Rain
A Child Is Born
The Shadow Of Your Smile
Once Upon A Summer Time
Here’s That Rainy Day

—Pierre Giroux