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I recently listened to “The Oscar Peterson Trio at Zardi’s,”
a two-CD set on the PABLO label. It was produced by
Norman Granz, and recorded at Zardi’s in Hollywood on
November 8, 1955. At a running time of two and
one-half hours (not the one and one-half hours as
indicated by Benny Green in the liner notes), Peterson
utilizes the guitar, piano and bass trio format pioneered
by Nat “King” Cole, during the late 1930’s. Clearly,
Peterson (1925-2007) achieved the pinnacle of this
configuration in the 1950’s, joined by guitarist Herb Ellis
and bassist Ray Brown (1926-2002).

Herb Ellis (1921-2010) joined the trio in 1953. Prior to
that time, Barney Kessel and his predecessor, Irving Ashby,
were featured on guitar. Ashby had been a member of the
aforementioned Nat “King” Cole Trio. Peterson and
Ray Brown first played as a duo in 1949 and shortly
thereafter, changed the group to a trio. Ellis remained
with the trio until 1958. At that time, Peterson elected
to further change the group to a piano, bass and drums
configuration, which he retained throughout the 1960’s
and beyond. Drummers such as Ed Thigpen, Louis Hayes
and Bobby Durham were featured.

The music played primarily consisted of standards,
composed by Jerome Kern (alone and with Cole Porter),
George and Ira Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, and original
Oscar Peterson tunes. Thirty songs are featured on
this set; a reference to 31 total tunes in the liner
notes is erroneous.

Anyone wishing to hear what can be achieved with
this type of trio configuration need look no further.
This band was at its peak, and their rapport with each
other seemed telepathic. Peterson’s pianistic virtuosity
was to the fore, and while he was the focal point
throughout, both Ellis and Brown still had ample
opportunities to shine. Brown not only provided superb
rhythmic support, but also usually highlighted his solo
performances with “spot on” intonation. I mention this
because I’ve learned that even some the “greatest”
Jazz bassists cannot always consistently play in tune,
and I don’t take it for granted. Herb Ellis also had some
tasty solos, but was often relegated to a supporting role,
playing appropriate chordal patterns befitting the tune
in question. He often played impressive runs in unison
with Peterson, as on “Roy’s Tune,” at the end of Disc One.
Therefore, “tasteful virtuosity” would be an apt term to
describe these performances.

The recorded sound was digitally remastered in 1994,
and is decent; however, Herb Ellis’ guitar is obviously
further back in the mix than Ray Brown’s bass. This
CD set offers an important snapshot of a premiere Jazz
trio at the peak of their abilities, and should not be missed.

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