Oscar Peterson – Exclusively for My Friends [Album list & covers follows] – MPS-Jazz Records 0209478MSW (Germany) – 6 stereo LPs audiophile box set – orig. 1963-1968 [9/30/14] (Distr. by Naxos) *****:

(Oscar Peterson – piano; Ray Brown or Sam Jones – bass; Louis Hayes, Bobby Durham, and Ed Thigpen – drums)

Albums:

Vol. 1 –  Action
Vol. 2 –  Girl Talk
Vol. 3 – The Way I Really Play
Vol. 4 – My Favorite Instrument (solo)
Vol. 5 – Mellow Mood
Vol. 6 – Travelin’ On

Oscar Peterson felt that his MPS recordings from the 1960s were the pinnacle of his recorded output. His series of Exclusively for My Friends LPs were made in the private studio of Hans Georg Bruner Schwer, who both directed and engineered all six recordings. Schwer was the owner of MPS Records, and the sessions were done as “house concerts” at his home with specially invited guests. Hans was not in the room where Oscar was playing, but upstairs in his studio, watching the musicians play on closed circuit and recording the tracks.

MPS has re-released the six recordings in 180 gram LP format in this magnificent package. Analog lacquer cutting is from the remastered tapes. Each individual LP has the original gatefold artwork with glossy varnish finish. There is no digital editing. Analog equalization and the original Studer tape machines were used to make minimal changes (i.e. “giving a cymbal a little more sparkle.”) Their intent was to provide the best analog sound and “remaining faithful to the original recording.” These sessions were done beginning in 1963, and continuing up to 1968 when Oscar would visit Germany to record for Hans Schwer.

The clarity of Peterson’s playing is richly presented on this audiophile set. There is no harshness as found on some digital recordings. Schwer puts you squarely in his living room. Hans was a pianist himself and states “I record the piano as if I were sitting immediately by it, as if I were playing it myself…”

Peterson6LPcovers

Above are the six LP covers. Highlights are many and include:

A tender reading of “I’ve Got a Crush on You” on Vol. 1 (Action). Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen gently comp behind OP as he caresses the melody. The title track on Vol. 2, “Girl Talk,” will get your feet tapping as Peterson swings the blues. His touch is so inviting, and the energy in the room so contagious, as he digs in and then “slides home safe.”

On Vol. 3, The Way I Really Play, Oscar is paired with Sam Jones and Bobby Durham. The opening track, “Waltzing is Hip” features Durham in an intense Buddy Rich-type wild drum solo after a very exuberant piano workout by OP. Following that is an extended take on Ellington’s “Satin Doll” wherein Peterson plays a wonderful chordal solo.

Vol. 4, My Favorite Instrument is a unique session in Oscar’s discography, as it is a solo album. It shows his full range of talent, leaving an apt comparison to Art Tatum, as OP makes descending runs swing as effortlessly as Tatum, and that is saying something… “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “Bye Bye Blackbird” particularly stand out.

Vol. 5, Mellow Mood has Oscar back with Sam Jones and Bobby Durham. Jones “walking” talents on bass set a grounding anchor for Oscar, and Durham is an assertive drummer. Song selection are standards but include newer favorites from the time period like Horace Silver’s “Nica’s Dream” and Anthony Newley’s “Who Can I Turn To.” The latter has the tempo doubled, and OP states that it’s his “favorite” track on the album.

Vol. 6, Travelin’ On is superb as we get to hear Peterson on the gospel flavored title track, and then shine on a favorite ballad of mine, Johnny Mandel’s “Emily.” Oscar’s bona fides with bossa nova are confirmed on Jobim’s “Quiet Nights.” (and all on one album side…).

Oscar Peterson completists will want to purchase this exquisite box set to hear the piano master at his best in resplendent audiophile acoustics. Exclusively For My Friends would make a well deserved Christmas gift for piano jazz fanatics.

—Jeff Krow

[Is the boxed set of vinyls worth $183? Yes, for vinyl fans with good turntables. Those set up for SACD playback should be aware that all six of these albums are currently available on stereo SACD, though some are very expensive—as much as $96 each, while some are only $18. There are also about 17 other Peterson albums on SACD at Amazon, including some multichannel. Some of his hits with others include two Telarc classics: the Canadian Suite Trail of Dreams, and The Very Tall Band Live at the Blue Note, his terrific West Side Story album, and Ben Webster Meets Oscar Peterson…Ed.]