Oscar Peterson: “Exclusively For My Friends”
Blueprint for living-room concerts
“The beauty of Oscar Peterson’s sound has never been as superbly captured as this.“ (Jazz critic Gene Lees in the original liner notes)
The three letters MPS, the acronym of Musik Produktion Schwarzwald, still stand for pure musical enjoyment of the highest fidelity. Since the early 1960s, the recording studio run by Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer on the edge of the sleepy town of Villingen in the Black Forest produced hundreds of recordings which, thanks to their acoustic brilliance and unusually wide-ranging stylistics - from swing to fusion, from groove to experimental - still inspire awe among jazz fans and connoisseurs today. Over the ensuing decades, these legendary productions have been discovered by new generations.
In the context of an extensive revival of the MPS catalogue entitled ‘Reforest The Legend’, Triple A, Edel:Content’s vinyl label, has taken on the ambitious task of re-issuing an exciting selection from the catalogue on LP. The original material has been diligently re-mastered in a pure analog process and will be released on high-quality 180 gr vinyl with original covers. Who better to start with than Oscar Peterson, MPS’ undisputed pride and joy and forefather of all following releases.
The beginning of a long friendship
When the world-renowned Canadian pianist came to Villingen in 1961, there was a mood of intense excitement all round. Hans-Georg Brunner-Schwer (HGBS), former owner of the hifi dynasty SABA who died in 2004, had just set up the first version of his studio, equipped with the most advanced recording technology of the time, above the living-room in his villa. This was the bait used by the piano enthusiast to attract the famous pianist to the Black Forest. After a guest performance in Zurich, Peterson climbed into a limousine and embarked on a journey across the mountains. As soon as he arrived, along with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Ed Thigpen, the international star was led to the Steinway grand in the living-room where a number of excited guests were eagerly waiting. “I listened to him play ’til four o’clock in the morning and lost the desire to ever hear the Beatles again!”, says Matthias Brunner-Schwer, HGBS’ son, still starry-eyed half a century later. The legendary pianist himself was equally delighted when he listened to the recording of the nocturnal living-room performance, never before having heard such a direct and pristine piano sound on tape. It sounded to him as if he was still there at the grand piano, undisturbed by distracting nightclub sounds yet surrounded by a wonderfully intimate atmosphere. Peterson’s enthusiastic response marked the beginning of a long-term friendship and spiritual kinship with Brunner-Schwer.
The seminal pianist's key strengths
In the following years, the Canadian pianist returned again and again to the Black Forest with various line-ups to capture his musical vision on tape. As Peterson was still under contract to Verve, the recordings could not be released before 1968. The legendary “Exclusively For My Friends” series was the first release for Brunner-Schwer‘s newly-established MPS label.
Never before had a recording captured every aspect of Peterson’s ground-breaking sound so vividly: the virtuosity and the speed as well as the delicate inspiration he brings to the subtle and reflective moments. The touch of light-hearted wit and the depth of lyrical feeling. Elegance and swing, interspersed with moments of intensity and explosive outbursts. The art of improvisation – simultaneously confident and imaginative – fuelled by harmonic and ornamental inventiveness. These recordings, made over a short period of five years, also reflect the transformation from equal member of a trio to soloist.
Body of work
The pilot LP “Action”, the first living-room concert recording, presents Peterson and his musical partners Ray Brown (b) and Ed Thigpen (dr) in a supremely relaxed atmosphere: Cole Porter‘s “At Long Last Love” overflows with high spirits, two Gershwin adaptations are rendered with a lyrical and even tender touch. In the ballad “Easy Walker”, one clearly hears the balanced nature of the trio’s interplay. The undisputed high point of this recording has to be the rousing, Latin-infused “Tin Tin Deo”. The follow-up LP “Girl Talk” bears the influence of new musical partners: Sam Jones replaces Ray Brown, and Bobby Durham and Louis Hayes share the drumming. Alongside the soulful title track, the set features an elegantly swinging “Robbin's Nest” complete with exuberant finale. Peterson increasingly comes across as a solo artist, for instance in the rhapsodically interwoven medley of “I Concentrate On You“ and “Moon River”, and even more so in the harmonically elaborate opening sequence to the epic, seventeen-minute long “I'm In The Mood For Love”.
On three further releases in the “Exclusively...” series, Oscar Peterson, alongside the now regular musical partners Sam Jones und Bobby Durham, had found the perfect trio to present his solo artistic ambitions. The suitably entitled vol. 3 (“The Way I Really Play”) springs to life with a complete re-working of Duke Ellington‘s “Satin Doll” and the theatrical masterpiece “Love Is Here To Stay”. On “Mellow Mood”, the fifth chapter in the series, Peterson leads the Horace Silver composition “Nica's Dream” from a mood of lyrical composure to one of improvisational effervescence and delights the listener with a version of “Summertime” without the expected melodrama. On “Travelling On”, the 6th and final volume, the trio stretch their range of expression from the profound ballad “Emily” to the racy title track which stays true to its gospel roots. To top it all, right in the middle of the trio recordings arrives “My Favorite Instrument”, Peterson‘s very first solo record - the first record that truly displays the full scope of his artistic inspiration, from the hot-headed, rhythmically complex “Perdido” to the late-night mood of “Little Girl Blue”. “The best jazz piano album of all times”, commented the Canadian author Gene Lees at the time.
In order to stay true to the high audio quality of the original recordings, the two outstanding sound engineers entrusted with the task of re-mastering the recordings at MSM Studios in Munich decided on a special approach: Dirk Sommer of Hifi Statement Netmagazine and Christoph Stickel, who was responsible for the re-mastering of numerous ECM re-releases (among them Keith Jarrett‘s “Köln Concert”), committed themselves first and foremost to remaining absolutely faithful to the originals. They retained all extraneous sounds present on the original live recordings, including the applause of the living-room audience. Working exclusively with analogue equipment, Sommer and Stickel carried out minimal restoration on the grand piano sound, subtly boosted the bass and lightly reduced the attack of the cymbals where necessary. This is something that had not been done on previously released CD and SACD versions. To put the cherry on the cake, the carefully optimised recordings are now being released on 180 gr vinyl.
“Reforest the Legend”! The audiophile “reforesting” of the legendary Black Forest treasures, with the famous living-room concerts blazing the trail, will not only delight MPS aficionados but also pique the curiosity of a new generation and inspire them to discover a crucial chapter in German jazz history.
Listen to the Oscar Peterson Essentials playlist: https://VA.lnk.to/OscarPeterson