Oscar Peterson Trio – The Trio – Live From Chicago – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

xxx

A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

Boy, these original Strobe Label (and T label) Verve pressings are sure all over the map. If there’s one jazz label that gets an F for consistency, it’s Verve. And they typically get an F (or at best a D) for mastering as well, since good sounding Verve pressings are few and far between. I guess that should not come as much of a surprise to many of our long time customers, but to hear how bad some of these pressings are mastered is nevertheless pretty shocking. One of the Strobe label copies we played had such a boosted top end it was positively distorted. (The RIAA curve does not allow that kind of top end boost without causing serious problems.)  

Lucky for you, dear reader, we found a copy that had the tubey magic and transparency that really lets this live jazz album transport you back in time to a small club in Chicago in the ’60s. (Some of the talking patrons won’t even shut up for the likes of Oscar Peterson!)

As we mentioned above, some copies are poorly mastered, so poorly that Ray Brown’s bass all but disappears from the trio! Other copies made Thigpen’s snare sound hard and too forward in the mix. This is obviously just a mastering EQ problem, since the good copies, such as this one, get all those elements to balance beautifully.

The Piano

If you have big, full-range speakers one of the qualities you may recognize in the sound of the piano is WARMTH. The piano is not hard, brittle or tinkly. Instead the best copies show you a wonderfully full-bodied, warm, rich, smooth piano, one which sounds remarkably like the ones we’ve all heard countless times in piano bars and restaurants.

In other words like a real piano, not a recorded one. This is what good live recordings tend to do well. There isn’t time to mess with the sound. Often the mix is live, so messing around after the fact is just not an option. Bad mastering can ruin the sound, and often does, along with worn out stampers and bad vinyl and five gram needles that scrape off the high frequencies. But a few — a very few — copies survive all such hazards. They manage to capture these wonderful musical performances on vinyl, showing us the sound we never expected from Verve. This is one.

Side one was not quite as good as side two, with the piano and bass lacking a bit of weight compared to the best we heard. Still, this was our shootout winner at Two Pluses for side two — if we had ten clean copies we might have found one with even better sound, so no three plus awards this time around. But don’t hold your breath, this record is just not out there in clean condition on the original label in the kinds of numbers we would need to do a big shootout. And the T label copies are clearly a step down in sound quality, so the options are pretty limited in that respect.

Rarely Quiet Vinyl

It’s rare to find an original Strobe label Verve that plays mostly Mint Minus, with just some light ticks, the way this one does. Much of the time all you are listening to is piano and bass, like on the amazing eight minutes of In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning. For a record to play quiet enough during such music is very unusual in my experience. But this one does.

The trio is made up of Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen, here recorded live at the height of their respective powers. Peterson really puts on a great show. He’s made an awful lot of records during his career and most of them aren’t very good. This is one of the exceptions. (“If You Could See Me Now” is another one. It’s a top title, we have them in sealed condition and they are a whole lot cheaper than two hundred bones.)

TRACK LISTING

Side One

I’ve Never Been in Love Before 
Wee Small Hours 
Chicago

Side Two

The Night We Called It a Day 
Sometimes I’m Happy
Whisper Not 
Billy Boy

AMG  Review

“…the pianist was generally in peak form during this era. He sticks to standards on this live [album] (a good example of the Trio’s playing), stretching out “Sometimes I’m Happy” creatively for over 11 minutes and uplifting such songs as “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” “Chicago” and “The Night We Called It a Day.”