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12/27/11

Oscar Peterson
Unmistakable
Sony BMG Masterworks

Zenph's incredible technology reanimates the artistry of another deceased master

The prevailing irony of this disc is that it makes Oscar Peterson’s piano playing seem more corporeal than ever, as though we were in the room with him, never mind that these recordings, strictly speaking, aren’t by him. Although, from another point of view, they are. Rather heady, eh?

Things tend to get a bit tricky when it comes to these Zenph “Re-performance” productions. Basically, some pretty impressive technology transforms earlier recordings—in this instance, unreleased Peterson performances from the 1970s and 1980s—into new recordings that distill exactly what one would have heard in the performer’s presence when fingers were brought to bear on keys. So it’s both realer than real and not quite real at the same time. But there’s no faulting the full-on purity of the sound quality—you rarely hear music this clean—and how successfully it enhances Peterson’s performance, which is about as tour-de-force as tour-de-force gets.

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“Who Can I Turn To?” and an extended Duke Ellington medley—covering seven songs—are architectonic in scope, cathedrals of sound that will make any listener incredulous that they could have been produced by two hands and two hands only. Bach and Art Tatum would, one surmises, nod their heads in approbation. The concluding “Goodbye,” with its final notes resonating for a number of bars after the proper performance ends, might as well double as an elegy for Peterson himself. The pyrotechnics are scaled back and light trills mix with occasional bass notes, a blend of surface and depth consistent with this record’s strange, alluring duality.

Originally published in December 2011
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