Resonance Big Band / Sammy Nestico-SWR Big Band / Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra / Alf Clausen Jazz Orchestra
Resonance Big Band
Plays Tribute to Oscar Peterson
First things first: there will never be another Oscar Peterson. Period. Even so, there are others who come remarkably close to retracing his legendary footsteps. Fellow Canadian Oliver Jones is one, Romanian-born Marian Petrescu another. It is the virtually unknown thirty-something Petrescu who undertakes the awesome task of sitting in for OP on the Resonance Big Band's CD, Plays Tribute to Oscar Peterson. "Oscar Peterson was my favorite pianist since I was young," Petrescu writes. "And I think he is still the best of all time." How does Petrescu fare as OP's surrogate? Listen for yourself and be amazed.
Arnold van Kampen, Peterson's close friend (and liner-note writer for this album), found Petrescu on YouTube a couple of years ago, in clips from a recording produced by George Klabin of Resonance Records. Klabin was so impressed by the young pianist that shortly after Peterson died in December 2007, he got in touch with Petrescu, who was living in Finland, and persuaded him (it wasn't difficult, as OP was one of Petrescu's musical heroes) to record a big-band tribute to Peterson. Klabin hired an orchestra comprised of many of the L.A. area's leading jazz musicians, hired topnotch conductor / arrangers including Klaus Ogerman (who had recorded with Peterson), chose the music and set a recording date.
The tribute consists of eleven numbers (a dozen if one counts the medley of "Hymn to Freedom" / "John Brown's Body"), five by Peterson, the traditional folk song "Greensleeves," and compositions by Rodgers and Hart, Lalo Schifrin, Henry Mancini, Oscar Pettiford and Leonard Bernstein (a second medley, this one from West Side Story). While Petrescu, as one would expect, handles most of the solos (and does so admirably), there are brief statements by an unnamed alto (Brian Scanlon?) on "I Feel Pretty," by two trombonists (most likely Andy Martin and Bob McChesney) on "John Brown's Body," by guitarist Andreas Oberg on "Greensleeves," and by Oberg and drummer Joe La Barbera on Peterson's "Bossa Beguine." La Barbera, bassist David Stone and the ensemble are quite impressive (as indeed they are throughout) on West Side Story. Petrescu exits in style with a masterful restatement (sans orchestra) of Peterson's finger-busting "Little Jazz Exercise."
Before closing, mention must be made that the CD comes with a bonus DVD, a "behind the scenes" look at the making of Plays Tribute, which in its way is almost as engaging as the album itself. The DVD is narrated by Klabin and one of the arrangers, pianist Bill Cunliffe (the others are Ogerman ["Sally's Tomato"] and Kuno Schmid). A bit too much talking and not quite enough music perhaps, but some absorbing insights from Cunliffe make it worth watching, and it's nice to see the band weeding out the blemishes at rehearsal. If there's a weakness in the CDand it's a minor oneit is that Petrescu's piano is a tad too much in the foreground, to the detriment of the ensemble. But once one adapts to that, the rest is smooth sailing and a marvelous tribute to the incomparable Oscar Peterson. We'll not see his like again.
Sammy Nestico / SWR Big Band
Any time that Sammy Nestico is teamed with a big band is Fun Time, and swing time as well. That's especially true when the band in question is one of the world's foremost jazz ensembles, Germany's sterling-silver SWR Big Band, comprised of many of that country's blue-ribbon musicians (plus one American expat, trumpeter Don Rader, and a second, trombonist Ian Cumming, who's from either Canada or Great Britain).
The ideally named Fun Time encompasses fifteen of Nestico's sunny compositions and / or arrangements, every one of which embodies the sort of snappy and engaging ripostes one would expect from a true master of his craft. Surprisingly, none of these themes sounded familiar, which may mean that Nestico continues at age eighty-five to write typically brilliant big-band charts. Eleven of the compositions (and all of the arrangements) are his; the numbers he didn't write are jazz classics"Struttin' with Some Barbecue," "Not Really the Blues," "Bye Bye Blues" and "King Porter Stomp." In his perceptive liner notes, Nestico writes that at least three of his originals"Fun Time," "Rare Moment," "The Four of Us" (originally "You n' Me")were written some years ago. The others, presumably, are of more recent vintage.