Oscar Peterson Trio – Walking The Line – MPS 0210989MSW stereo vinyl, 40:38 (1970/2016) ****:

A piano master shines on audiophile vinyl reissue.

(Oscar Peterson – piano; Jiri Mraz – double bass; Ray Price ; drums)

In a world of legendary jazz pianists, Canadian Oscar Peterson easily stands among his peers as an equal. With eight Grammys, numerous honorary teaching degrees and a sixty year performance career, O.P. brought technical mastery and dynamic elegance to his craft. Among his peers (most notably Ray Charles), he is regarded as the technician who was closest to Art Tatum in pure talent. He participated in duos, quartets and accompanied vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald. But it was his trio work that helped to define the legacy. Peterson’s early recording career made him a valuable addition to Verve records. As with a lot of American jazz players, he migrated to Europe to capitalize on an adoring fan base. It was there where Peterson enjoyed a prolific relationship with MPS (16 albums in 16 years). The label has been reissuing several recordings from their estimable catalog.

Among The MPS reissues is a 180-gram version of the 1970 release Walking The Line. The Oscar Peterson Trio (with Jiri Mraz on double bass and Ray Price on drums) emphasizes the inherent, passionate musical disposition of Peterson. Things get off to a flying start with a decidedly up-tempo cover of Cole Porter’s “I Love You”. Mostly recognizable as a benign popular ditty (from the Broadway stage show, Mexican Hayride), the song was a standard for singers like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Jo Stafford. But in the hands of a jazz genius like Peterson, it is reborn. After a muscular piano intro, the trio settles into a complex, medium-swing groove. Peterson adds the customary intensity with forceful punctuation, cascading flourishes and breathless right hand notation. Mraz has a nimble doublebass solo against Price’s artful brush work. As always, there is a modicum of understatement that complements the grandiosity. A Peterson original follows and it is a jaunty blues piece. The piano solo is soulful and hard-driving. The fiery runs contain “sub-grooves” that add to the texture.

After this ferocity, “Once Upon A Summertime” is a welcome change of pace. The dreamlike ballad has a lilting vibe, but Peterson’s inimitable phrasing is still emphatic. There is a nice finishing touch as he gently strums the piano strings at the end of the fade. Returning to a percussive inspiration, “Just Friends” is explosive. The unorthodox combination of melodic structure and improvisation is compelling. An odd selection of a bowed double bass in faster tempo has a certain scratchiness that doesn’t translate. There is an unorthodox song selection on Walking The Line. “Teach Me Tonight” was a fifties-era pop standard, recorded by nearly everybody. Peterson transforms it into a bop trio exercise. His lightning-fast solos display both fluidity and potency. The dramatic integrity is countered by a rare hushed moment.

Song interpretation is at the core of jazz artists. And the remaining three tracks take on sophisticated compositions. The wistful, cinematic Michel Legrand classic “Windmills Of Your Mind” is nearly unrecognizable. Peterson connects with the wistful theme, but adds a frenzied soul arrangement. His solos are rollicking, extraordinary in their complicated briskness. Drawing on Broadway again, “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” (from Rodgers & Hart’s Too Many Girls) embraces the core melody’s wistful nature. This song has become a jazz standard, recorded by the likes of Bennie Goodman, Artie Shaw, George Shearing, Art Blakey and Count Basie (to name a few). Peterson’s deft touch is exquisite, and he still enhances the jam with some percussive verve. Cole Porter’s “All Of You” (introduced in the 1954 musical Silk Stockings by Don Ameche) is a master class in swing. O.P. takes the melody on a serious ride with his sprightly runs with unorthodox descending chords. A strong finish to a great album!

The vinyl re-mastering of Walking The Line is excellent. Most of the earlier studio aesthetics are intact. Some of the analog “aging” has been cleaned up, but the original studio ambiance is still present. Peterson’s piano is crystalline and has a rumbling quality on the sustained registers. Stereo separation is excellent, especially with the doublebass and drum. The hi-gloss outer gatefold is topnotch, including the Peter Max-esque cover by Hubertus Mall.


Side 1: I Love You; Rock Of Ages; Once Upon A Summertime; Just FriendsSide 2: Teach Me Tonight; The Windmills Of Your mind; I Don’t Know What Time it Was; All Of You

—Robbie Gerson