Aspects of Oscar

Roy Hargrove and friends celebrate Oscar Peterson's legacy

On April 2nd at The Royal Conservatory of Music's Koerner Hall in Toronto the Aspects of Oscar concert series came to a close with an evening featuring Roy Hargrove, Ralph Moore, Christian McBride, George Cables, Willie Jones III and Roberta Gambarini.

Hargrove is no stranger to Toronto audiences, appearing regularly at the Toronto Jazz Festival since the early 1990s. He's appeared here in recent years with his quintet, with the Basie Big Band and with his funk outfit, The RH Factor. What made this night different was the focus being placed on the legacy of Oscar Peterson and the fact that while Hargrove was headlining, what was on stage was essentially an all star pick up band.

They opened the show with a high energy rendition of The Lamp is Low which Hargrove learned off of a 1960s recording of Peterson's featuring Sam Jones and Bobby Durham, "those guys were flyin' on that thing", he said. Next on the program was Rob Roy, which is featured on the 1996 recording Oscar Peterson Meets Roy Hargrove and Ralph Moore. It was a treat to hear Moore and Hargrove reprise their solos from the recording and to hear Cables, McBride and Jones' take on the fine work of Peterson, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and Lewis Nash and put their own, unique spin on things.

Other memorable selections from the evening included a touching rendition of My Foolish Heart, a swinging take on the Oscar Peterson-penned North York (also from the 1996 album) and guest vocalist Roberta Gambarini's fine, sensitive interpretation of Lush Life, which was punctuated with a tasteful solo from Hargrove.

Christian McBride brought his trademark virtuosity to the mix with a series of melodic, brief solos throughout the evening. Cables acquitted himself beautifully on the very Bösendorfer that Peterson played in concert in Toronto on numerous occasions. It was a treat to hear Willie Jones III playing straight ahead, especially when you consider just how funky he can be.

The show was closed by Peterson himself, via Zenph Sound Innovations' technology and a Yamaha Disklavier Pro piano. The piano was set centre stage, with a solo spot shining on the keys, while a "re-performance" of Peterson's Duke Ellington medley, that he often used to close shows, played.

The Royal Conservatory of Music's Mervon Mehta did a very admirable job pulling this series together, along with Peterson's widow, the elegant and eloquent Kelly Peterson (who participated in a very enjoyable Q and A during the intermission).

This evening was a fitting tribute to Peterson's elegance, musicality and humanity. I'm sure the sold out crowd, who delivered a grande total of three standing ovations, would agree.

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Tracey Nolan