Big Band Plays
The Legacy Of Oscar Peterson
By Willard Manus
Not only a tribute to Oscar Peterson but an introduction to Marian Petrescu, one of his piano disciples, RESONANCE BIG BAND PLAYS THE LEGACY OF OSCAR PETERSON (Resonance Records) is a remarkable CD, one that will surely be celebrated for years to come.
The jazz giant Peterson died in 2008, after a five-decade career in which he dazzled audiences (and fellow musicians) with his virtuosic piano gifts. Whether accompanying the likes of Lester Young, Benny Carter or Dizzy Gillespie, or leading his own bands, Peterson could be counted on to produce music that shimmered with sensitivity and beauty. Although he was best known for the speed at which he could play, Peterson also used his perfect articulation and chord selections to make slow ballads come to life. He was also an accomplished composer, arranger and orchestrator.
It's quite a challenge for any piano player to try and emulate a genius like Peterson. Fortunately, Marian Petrescu has not only risen to the challenge but turned it into a showcase for his own impressive keyboard capabilities. The 37-year-old, Rumanian-born musician had long been an admirer of Peterson, having been overwhelmed at a young age when he first heard Oscar play I Remember Clifford. It motivated him to study the piano and take up jazz as a career. Winner of the Jazz Piano Competition in Paris (1989), Petrescu now resides in Finland and works as a solo artist or leader of his own trio.
It was George Klabin, president of L.A.-based Resonance Records, who thought of Petrescu when he began planning a Peterson tribute album. "I had recorded Marian in 2006 when he came to my studio to join his friend and guitarist Andreas Oberg on his CD (My Favorite Guitars)," Klabin said. "As I watched him play, I heard the ghost of Oscar Peterson, in such a perfect and amazing manner that I could hardly believe it, if not for the fact that I was there and saw him play those notes. It was uncanny. Marian was actually able to play Oscar Peterson's music with flawless and seemingly effortless technique, swing and sensitivity. He was far more than just a clone, because he could improvise. To hear him was actually a spiritual experience, and I will never forget it."
With Petrescu aboard, Klabin then brought in arrangers Bill Cunliffe and Kuno Schmid (both pianists in their own right) to help write the charts and conduct. Klabin then booked some of the finest studio musicians in L.A. to back up Petrescu, beginning with Oberg on guitar, David Stone on bass and Joe La Barbera on drums. Fifteen more horn and brass players were added to fill out the ranks of the band, which plays with power and passion on ten of the CD's eleven cuts (the exception is Greensleeves, on which a string quartet lends its sweet, warm voice to Petrescu's lyrical interpretation of the traditional ballad).
Whether revisiting such Peterson original compositions as Walking Is Hip, L'Impossible or Hymn To Freedom (the 60s civil-rights anthem), or offerring Peterson-like versions of a West Side Story medley or Henry Mancini's Sally's Tomatoes, the Resonance big band swings from beginning to end. The same can be said for Petrescu, whose technical prowess and rich, spirited playing combine to make a major (and memorable) musical statement.
The RESONANCE BIG BAND album comes with a bonus DVD which is noteworthy for several reasons, beginning with an informative discussion between Klabin and Cunliffe regarding choices of material and musicians. There are ample shots of the recording session, with Cunliffe at the podium and coaxing magical sounds out of the band. Petrescu, a rotund, bearded, always-smiling presence at the piano, comes off particularly well in the DVD. As Cunliffe says, "He plays like Oscar Peterson on steroids. He furthers Oscar's tradition while sounding great himself--all without over-dubbing. He's a new, far-reaching artist."