WHAT'S UP? FEATURES BRILLIANT TRIO WORK BY JAZZ LEGENDS OSCAR PETERSON, RAY BROWN AND MILT JACKSON
Telarc unearths unreleased tracks from famed 1998 Blue Note date by The Very Tall Band
When pianist Oscar Peterson, bassist Ray Brown and vibist Milt Jackson convened for a performance at the Blue Note in New York City on Thanksgiving weekend in 1998, the music that emerged was as brilliant as it was spontaneous. The performance itself – a landmark collaboration by three jazz giants – garnered critical praise from all corners, as did the resulting recording, The Very Tall Band (CD-83443), released on Telarc the following year.
"With three such seasoned professionals – not to mention the accomplished young drummer from Ray Brown's trio, Karriem Riggins – there was never any danger of anticlimax," says Alyn Shipton, who penned the liner notes for the August 1999 release. "But what astounded the audience was the intensity of the playing, and the sensation that we were overhearing three great masters of the art playing for one another and enrapturing the crowd in the process."
But for as fine a recording as The Very Tall Band was, there was plenty of material from the three-night gig that didn't make the final cut. Elaine Martone, Telarc's executive vice president of production and producer of the original Very Tall Band release, has dug into the vaults and emerged with seven additional tracks recorded at the Blue Note date. The result is What's Up?, nearly 60 minutes of unreleased material from this historic 1998 performance.
The seven-song set opens with the rhythmic and upbeat "Squatty Roo," a playful number that rides along the seemingly effortless counterpoint set up by Peterson and Jackson. Equally upbeat and lighthearted is "Salt Peanuts," a track that showcases Jackson's blurring dexterity on vibes, underscored by Brown's subtle bottom line.
Further in, "If I Should Lose You" follows a more mellow groove, set up with the help of an atmospheric opening interlude by Jackson, followed by full accompaniment from Peterson, Brown and Riggins.
"Soft Winds" is just what the title implies, an easygoing piece that hits the ears without undue fanfare, while the closer, "The More I See You," moves along at a satisfying midtempo pace and brings the soloing prowess of all three players to the fore.
"It's a very free feeling up there," said Peterson in Shipton's original liner notes. "This group has no established library together as I have with my quartet or Ray has with his trio, so the whole thing is much more spontaneous than the kind of setting you'd normally hear us in today. What you're hearing isn't a sculptured performance, it's a very dedicated jam session."
A jam session perhaps, but one loaded with talent, possibility and significance, given the personnel on hand. "Any time musicians of the caliber of Peterson, Jackson and Brown convene, it is a special event," wrote JazzTimes writer Ira Gitler in 1998 on the occasion of the Blue Note performances. "An edge of anticipation was in the air, fueled by a sense of history and, of course, the talent in the house."
Sadly, two of these three brilliant talents have since left the building (Milt Jackson died in 1999, barely a month after the release of The Very Tall Band, and Ray Brown died in 2002), but their creative edge and that unmistakable sense of history is still evident in the tracks of What's Up? Nearly a decade after this singular performance, The Very Tall Band still stands head and shoulders above the rest.