The Oscar Peterson Trio: Walking the Line. MPS (LP).
Music: 4.5 Sonics: 4.5
Joe Henderson/Chick Corea/Ron Carter/Billy Higgins: Mirror Mirror. MPS (LP).
Music: 4 Sonics: 4
Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer launched Musik Produktion Schwarzwald in 1968 with a series of living-room concert recordings by Oscar Peterson. During his 15 years at the helm, the Black Forest-based MPS became known for its “most perfect sound.” A recently-launched reissue program takes advantage of the superb original master tapes to bring some of the label’s more than 500 albums back to LP (as well as CD, digital downloads, and open reel tape). Along with the albums discussed in this review, the latest round of vinyl releases includes pianist Monty Alexander’s Live at the Montreux Festival, guitarist Baden Powell’s Images on Guitar, and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s The Hub of Hubbard. Like those, Oscar Peterson’s Walking the Line (1970) and Joe Henderson’s Mirror Mirror (1980) live and breathe on 180-gram vinyl thanks to reissue producer Dirk Sommer’s and mastering engineer Christoph Stickel’s analog-to-analog-to-analog restoration and commitment to the rich, warm sound of the pre-digital era.
Brunner-Schwer was committed to getting the concert grand piano sound right, and few generated more piano sound than Oscar Peterson. Some have said Peterson, who died in 2007, overplayed, with his thunderous chords, hammered clusters, dense arpeggios, and insanely fleet single-note runs; his frantic version of “The Windmills of Your Mind” could support that argument, but it’s thrilling, and captured with sonic exactitude. And he takes “Teach Me Tonight,” “Just Friends,” Cole Porter’s “I Love You,” and his own “Rock of Ages” at breathtakingly brisk, bordering on breakneck, tempos, as well.
Following Ed Thigpen and Louis Hayes on the trio’s drum stool, Ray Price is a revelation. Bassist Jiri (aka George) Mraz has a deep, sonorous, defined tone—funky on his “Rock of Ages” solo and imbued with complex emotion on the slow ballads “Once Upon a Summertime” and “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was.”
Joe Henderson’s Mirror Mirror stands out not only for its all-star personnel and its impeccable sonics, but also for its place in time, or, rather, its place out of time. Recorded in a transition year between a decade dominated in jazz by funk and fusion, with a strong but somewhat cordoned-off avant-garde, and one that would give rise to both smooth jazz and a neo-mainstream conservatism, the album epitomizes the way hard-bop served as a haven of inspiration and creativity for players who helped shape what had been the core of popular modern jazz. The inspiration, including that of pre-Ascension Coltrane, can be heard in the intuitive interplay that supports the abundant solos by tenor saxophonist Henderson (so finely grained and probing), pianist Chick Corea, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Billy Higgins. The creativity is evident in both the spontaneous improvisations and the writing: Side A opens and Side B closes with absorbing Corea compositions, and in between are two by Carter, the standard “What’s New?,” and Henderson’s outward-bound “Joe’s Bolero.”