Recorded (in excellent sound) at the end of a gruelling international concert tour that began in Brazil, and then covered mainland Europe and Scandinavia, this previously unreleased Helsinki performance must rank among the finest of Oscar’s latter-day (and pre-stroke) career.
Kelly Peterson, who has done much to promote her late husband’s reputation, starting with Oscar, With Love (2017), recalls that this perfectly balanced and long-serving quartet was “determined to make every concert better than the previous one. This night in Helsinki is a glorious example of that.”
In his autobiography A Jazz Odyssey, Oscar pays tribute to his colleagues on this tour. Joe Pass, Oscar asserts, had gone “where no man has gone before” on the guitar. “[He] helped make me a better player.” Dave Young is complemented for being “very adventuresome in the solo work and enjoys the challenge of running lines with me or against me. His execution is filled with the true joy of playing.” Martin Drew, “the consummate big band and studio drummer”, was also ideally suited to small-group work. “He is never anything but conscientious in such a context.”
At Kelly’s urging, the first set of this concert was devoted entirely to Oscar’s own compositions. The aptly titled Cool Walk unfolds at a satisfying strut, while Sushi, in partnership with Pass, builds up an exhilarating head of steam – underscored by Young and Drew. Love Ballade was composed spontaneously by Oscar during an appearance with Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen in Washington, DC in 1984, with an elegiac opening piano solo followed by an extended and lightly fingered contribution from Young.
On his 20-minute, three-part A Salute To Bach, Oscar displays his dexterity and inventiveness at all tempos. In the second section, he engages with Pass in a dazzling sequence of exchanges. Drew and Young propel the proceedings with unflagging punctuation. The final movement features an introspective and moving solo from Oscar. Cakewalk ups the tempo, with Pass and Peterson romping through the melody before contributing embellishments and breaks which raise the temperature to near fever pitch.
On the second set, the quartet delivers impeccable performances of five jazz standards, with superb solo performances by Oscar on A Waltz For Debby and Pass exploring the nuances of the Disney song When You Wish Upon a Star.
A Time For Love, a Johnny Mandel ballad, receives appropriately caressing interpretations from Oscar and Joe, while they perform How High The Moon at a restrained but entirely satisfactory tempo. Benny Goodman’s Soft Winds retains a subtly soft swing. But an 18-minute-plus Duke Ellington medley is the high spot of this set. “A” Train, Don’t Get Around Much Any More, Come Sunday, C-Jam Blues, Lush Life and Caravan, seamlessly linked, receive respectful but also innovative performances. Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life has a meditative interpretation from Oscar, while a perky Caravan winds up the Ellington segment.
Blues Etude, a breakneck and partly boogie-woogie encore, leaves the audience clapping for more. In her sleeve note, Kelly Peterson expresses the hope that ”new listeners will be captivated and share this joyful and joy-filled ride into the highest heights”. They will.
CD1: Cool Walk; Sushi; Love Ballade; A Salute To Bach; Cakewalk (56.45)
CD2: A Time For Love; How High The Moon; Soft Winds; Waltz For Debby; When You Wish Upon A Star; Duke Ellington Medley: Take The “A” Train; Don’t Get Around Much Anymore; Come Sunday; C-Jam Blues; Lush Life; Caravan; Blues Etude (53.51)
Peterson (p); Joe Pass (g); Dave Young (b); Martin Drew (d). Helsinki, Finland, 17 November 1987.
Two Lions/Mack Avenue MAC1151