The Oscar Peterson Trio: Night Train
1963: Verve LP V6-8538, CD 314 521 440-2 (Remaster)
Happy-Go-Lucky Local (aka Night Train) (4:50)
C-Jam Blues (3:23)
Georgia On My Mind (3:44)
Bag’s Groove (5:40)
Moten Swing (2:52)
Easy Does It (2:43)
Things Ain’t What They Used To Be (4:36)
I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good) (5:06)
Band Call (3:53)
Hymn To Freedom (5:33)
Oscar Peterson: piano
Ray Brown: bass
Ed Thigpen: drums
Having previously reviewed The Hawk Relaxes by Coleman Hawkins, I thought I would introduce to my readers another jazz album that they may not be aware of that appeared during the great Jazz Upheaval that was occurring in the early 1960s with artist like pianist Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman (my saxophone teacher in New York). Like Hawkins, pianist Oscar Peterson came from an earlier generation of musicians and similarly chose to be a flag bearer for the small ensemble swing music he helped create and define. So it is yet another marvel to see Peterson’s LP Night Train (recorded in late 1962; released in 1963) arrive in the public in the same era as such works as Coleman landmarks The Shape of Jazz To Come (1959) and Free Jazz (1961), John Coltrane’s ferociously gorgeous playing on his album Africa/Brass (1961) or Impressions (1963), or alto saxophonist Eric Dolphy quirky Out To Lunch! (1964).
Like The Hawk Relaxes, or Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue, this Peterson CD should be a staple in anyone/everyone’s collection: LP, CD, iTunes, or otherwise. It is (deceptively) simple, straight ahead piano jazz that is very uplifting and entertaining. And although this is an Oscar Peterson project, the world class accompaniment of bassist Ray Brown and drummer Ed Thigpen make this particular recording the masterpiece that it is, Peterson’s virtuosity aside. To be able to properly adjust to and accompany Peterson’s playing was a skill very few had, and thus to have been a Peterson sideman is to have achieved a very rare and high honor in jazz music.
(It just so happens that a causal friend of mine, Lorne Lofsky, was a long time Peterson accompanist, as well as a sideman for Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie, and others. Even when sitting around fiddling with his guitar during a conversation, I have heard Lorne play things it would take a seasoned pro’s entire concentration and maximum effort to play… he is a total and utter master, so it is no surprise Oscar would have asked him to play in both his quartet and quintet. It also just so happens Lorne is the nicest guy you will ever meet, as serious as his personality is and how intense his dedication to jazz).
Thus, it is no surprise Thigpen and Brown play with the exact right amount of restraint and/or boldness at any given moment (especially restraint), considering this session was purposely designed to feature short, radio-friendly jazz cuts which required a very strict balancing act between improvisation and the overall arrangements).
The real treasures on this album though are the two-note melody C-Jam Blues and a previously unreleased, unfinished version of Charlie Parker’s Now’s The Time (on the re-mastered CD). C-Jam Blues, a simple Duke Ellington riff blues, is a prime showcase for what jazz does best: take musical material and spin it into swinging magic. What is remarkable as always is how Oscar Peterson’s time feel harkens back to before “jazz” to New Orleans social music, which did not “swing” but rather had a particular bounce to it. This ebullient bounce, which became the basis for the swing beat (ergo swing feeling). Capturing the flow and bounce of this pre-jazz (e.g. trumpeter King Oliver’s recordings from 1923), Peterson brings this sensibility into jazz swing feel, and thus his playing swings furiously hard, never lacking the roots that those who study jazz only after the late 30s have not established. Peterson, never unleashing his full pianist force, thus unfurls a sweet, gleeful two-minute solo that would serve any young pianist well as a textbook on improvisation.
Having played with iconic saxophonist Charlie Parker when he was still a teen, Peterson turns the now classic jazz blues Now’s The Time into yet another feature of not only his virtuosity and taste, but his personality as a bandleader, stopping the song right before finishing and critiquing the song with the producer (it was “too much of a change” from the rest of the album), thus not including it on the original LP. But what exists on the CD is 9/10ths of one of the best versions of Now’s The Time you will ever hear.
Peterson shows off his sweet side with Band Call, a two-chord pattern Duke Ellington used to use to “call” his band back to the bandstand after an intermission (which Peterson turns into a 12 bar blues like most other songs on the LP). Prominent in Peterson’s solo is how extremely adept he is at developing a simple musical idea into a series of very musical variations and improvisations, displaying the musical thinking of a true master.