Resonance Big Band Plays Tribute to Oscar Peterson – Introducing Marian Petrescu, piano – Resonance Records

by | Sep 11, 2009 | CD+DVD | 0 comments

Resonance Big Band Plays Tribute to Oscar Peterson – Introducing Marian Petrescu, piano – Resonance Records CD + DVD RCD-1008, CD: 1.1 hrs. [Release date: May 12, 09] *****:

A thoroughly remarkable big band album which offers a deeper experience than the usual collection of big band charts.  The band itself has too many members to list all here, but it includes such familiar names as Joe La Barbera on drums and Bill Reichenbach on trombones and tuba. Andreas Oberg, who has recorded a previous guitar album for Resonance, is the guitarist on the session. Three different top arrangers/conductors share work on the 11 terrific tracks: Bill Cunliffe, Kuno Schmid and Claus Ogerman. But the one performer in the real spotlight here is Romanian pianist Marian Petrescu, who aptly and very creatively fills the large shoes of the late Oscar Peterson (d. 2007) – the incredible pianist once dubbed by Duke Ellington the “Maharaja of the keyboard.”

In 1972 Petrescu happened to see a TV performance by Peterson. That started him off on classical and jazz studies in Sweden and Finland. The pianist has always had a special regard for the genius of Peterson, but he also draws from the work of Art Tatum, Kenny Barron, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and other pianists. Resonance’s George Klabin, also a lifelong Peterson enthusiast, wanted to put together an album celebrating the artistry of Peterson, and immediately thought of building it around Petrescu’s talents. He wanted to carry on the Peterson legacy by issuing the first recording “in the spirit of Oscar Peterson without Oscar Peterson.” Klabin comments on the DVD about the relaxed demeanor of Petrescu, and how he effortlessly showed such incredible chops in his playing during the sessions.  Petrescu studied transcriptions of Peterson’s intros to some of the tune, with the idea of playing those fairly straight at the start and then doing improvisations based on the tunes. One of the arrangements came straight from the original arranger of one of Peterson’s albums of the late 60s – the great Claus Ogerman.  Other charts – such as Kuno Schmid’s version of Little Girl Blue – make use of string quartet rather than the big band, and they sort of surround the piano lines to frame it beautifully. This one emphasizes the classical aspect, which is most appropriate since Peterson himself asked his students to study Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and Goldberg Variations, considering them essential to every serious pianist. Petrescu plays a Fazioli Grand F-212, which has been selected by several classical artists as the best-sounding grand piano available today. (What a pleasure to hear, instead of the out-of-tune disasters some of our greatest jazz pianists have unfortunately had to record on!)

Lalo Schifrin’s Down Here on the Ground is a real toe-tapper, and there are five originals by Peterson, beginning with the 3/4-time Waltzing is Hip opening the CD. There are two medleys on the disc: that of Peterson’s Hymn to Freedom with the traditional John Brown’s Body – a fresh view of this moving music – and a gorgeous 13-minute medley of tunes from Bernstein’s West Side Story that in many ways surpasses the best of the many West Side Story medleys that came out shortly after the musical premiered.

The accompanying DVD is 16:9 color and while promotional of the album as expected, it is full of interesting information about the arrangements and recording session, and allows one to see some of the players in action in the studio.  Both Cunliffe and Schmid talk at some length about their approach to the arrangements and to Peterson’s legacy. You may only watch it once, but it’s more worthwhile viewing than the DVDs that come with many dual discs.

Waltzing is Hip, L’Impossible, Little Girl Blue, Down Here on the Ground, Medley: Hymn to Freedom & John Brown’s Body, Sally’s Tomato, Tricotism, Greensleeves, Bossa Beguine, West Side Story Medley, A Little Jazz Exercise.

 – John Henry

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