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Oliver Jones: Live in Baden, Switzerland

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What a treat for the Swiss audience when Oliver Jones played in Baden for the first time in May 1990. Flanked by Americans Reggie Johnson (bass) and Ed Thigpen (drums), the Canadian made it known that he was a maestro-albeit one recognized mainly in his home country. Jones’ fluidity and nimbleness are matched by his precision and command-the frequent shifts of tempo and ambiance might be jarring in lesser hands, but in Jones’ they’re seamless and provide a thrill a minute.

Rodgers and Hart’s “Falling in Love With Love” opens the hour-long set, and from the beginning Jones is out to make statements. The elegance of his solo intro, illustrious, unhurried flourishes alternating with vigorous, succinct runs, gives way by mid-song to sixth-sense trio transactions. Accelerating swiftly then taking it down a few notches, Jones never loses the lyricism and never cedes control; even when he steps back to grant solo time to his charges, there’s a sense that Jones is calling the shots.

On Freddie Hubbard’s “Up Jumped Spring,” Jones holds on to the original’s waltz-time frame but gets to stretching out asap. He’s an avowed fan of the push-and-pull, rising to a crescendo, then another, laying back and starting over again. His first solo is preposterously fleet and then he jacks up the tempo some more. The gospel staple “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” too, takes a few wild rides.

But this stunner isn’t solely about racing furiously and pulling over for pit stops. Jones goes it solo for three consecutive tunes, among them a Gershwin medley and a “‘Round Midnight” that are all about grace and pacing. Both the original “Blues for Helen” and fellow Canadian Oscar Peterson’s “Hymn to Freedom” stick close to the script-although Jones just can’t help shoot for the stars every now and then.

Originally Published