Saturday, 10 April 2010

Such sweet sorrow

The Oscar Peterson Trio at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival is – to mis-quote Whitney Balliett – the sound of civilisation.

I was prompted to take the CD down from the shelf by the news of the recent passing of Herb Ellis. The album is often cited as the finest example of this edition of the Peterson trio on record – chiefly by Peterson himself on the liner notes to the original album.

Somewhere between a thundering tour-de-force and a trip to the moon on gossamer wings, the album is seventy-five minutes of sonic bliss. Back on home ground in his native Canada, perhaps this is what inspires Peterson to the heights the group here scales. His characteristically fractal solos are caught in a shimmering web of interplay with Ellis’s guitar and the bass of Ray Brown. As Peterson himself has said “at times, depending on where we were on the instruments, it was almost impossible to tell which instrument you were hearing.”

This is my own favourite edition of the trio, perhaps because, at times, its sound reminds me of Nat Cole’s own early jazz work with guitar and bass. Herb Ellis works the full textures of the guitar into the warp and woof of the trio’s performance: the ticking, time-keeping reminiscent of Freddie Green’s metronome tempi; those sudden cat-like springs which send notes from Peterson’s piano scattering like pigeons; and then the pure, melodic lines. I was reminded at times of Paul Desmond’s work – his solos fluttering like a bird behind the mullioned windows of Brubeck’s piano at the Oberlin concert (the first jazz album I ever bought). Perhaps that is the contrast of the melody against the fugitive stride of the piano – instant Bach; Baroque and roll, if you will…

It is entirely appropriate that the concert culminates in a piece by John Lewis dedicated to Oscar’s sister. Daisy’s Dream is an Ellingtonesque piece about a music box. The woody sound of the trio – at times like fingers running down a louvred shutter – is the ultimate music box.

The trio’s inventive use of roundelay throughout the set, the trio as, virtually, a sort of Elizabethan string section - the stuff that dreams are made on…

The Oscar Peterson Trio at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival is available here.


  1. Umm... shouldn't that be Ellis rather than Geller?

  2. Thank you. I don't know which is the stronger emotion - shame at having made such an elementary error in typing up the piece or delight that anybody actually reads the stuff I write - and carefully at that! Thank you so much for not allowing my ridiculous error to stand.