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Oscar Peterson: A Time for Love: Live in Helsinki, 1987 (Mack Avenue)

A review of the concert recording of the piano great and his quartet

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Oscar Peterson: A Time for Love: Live in Helsinki, 1987
The cover of A Time for Love: Live in Helsinki, 1987 by Oscar Peterson

Really, how bad can A Time for Love be? It’s a concert recording of piano great Oscar Peterson and his quartet with guitar great Joe Pass (at this point featuring Dave Young on bass and Martin Drew on drums), made during one of the heights of Peterson’s live performance career. In short, it’s as good as you no doubt assumed it was before you even started reading this review.

The program this night in Finland was a doubleheader: a full set of Peterson’s original compositions, another of standards. The former’s centerpiece is the 20-minute “Salute to Bach” (a.k.a. “The Bach Suite”); it goes so far as to include an expert fugue passage for piano and guitar (with Young playing Bach-like bass arpeggios), but sounds like Peterson anyway. The real peak is the high-speed “Sushi,” which begins at a boil and stays there. On the standards disc, unaccompanied pieces provide the finest moments; Peterson’s thoughtful “Waltz for Debby” forms a soft one-two punch with Pass’ exquisite “When You Wish Upon a Star.” Young and Drew also sit out “How High the Moon,” but their absence is barely noticed with Peterson and Pass’ cocksure swing.

A Peterson showcase requires bearing with his more exasperating traits too. As usual, his comps are relentless and exhausting. (One of the pluses to “Sushi” is that piano and guitar trade eights, and Peterson for once gives Pass some room.) He also at points—e.g., the “C-Jam Blues” and “Caravan” sections of his Ellington medley—gets bogged down in the kind of ornaments that caused Billy Taylor to say that “his phenomenal facility sometimes gets in the way of people’s listening.” Any Peterson fan, however, knows that these are part of the package, and A Time for Love is as solid a package as there is.

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Oscar Peterson in Conversation

Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.