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Oscar Pettiford: Lost Tapes Germany 1958/1959

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Oscar Pettiford is often cited as one of the most important early bop-era bassists-as well as a pioneer of jazz cello-but his premature death at age 37 in 1960 robbed him of an even greater legacy. These 16 sides, 10 of which have never before been released, were taped in Germany and date from the latter part of Pettiford’s career, 1958-’59. They feature him in a number of stylistic settings, playing with top German musicians of the time plus a couple of Americans imported from Paris: drummer Kenny Clarke (on the last five tracks) and Lucky Thompson, who blows soprano saxophone on one tune, Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady.”

Over the course of the disc-most of the recordings are crisp studio tracks; the last two are live-Pettiford’s dual strengths as leader and keeper of the rhythm are displayed steadily. His ingenuity as a soloist is showcased at the top of the set, in a duet take on George Gershwin’s “But Not for Me” with the Serbian trumpeter Duško Gojković. Pettiford swings unerringly: Compared to the complex playing of some of today’s bassists, what he does here may sound minimalist, but in that simplicity is an abundance of melody and a rock-solid grounding.

Among the full-band pieces, the original “Blues in the Closet” serves as a textbook example of Pettiford’s penchant for lying low behind the soloists (guitarist Attila Zoller shines) until taking his own dazzling solo turn. His workup of Charlie Christian’s “A Smooth One” is notable not just for its lack of guitar but for the way clarinetist Rolf Kühn brings an entirely unexpected floating sensation to the reading. The two live tracks make for a nice coda; a full show would certainly be a treat.

Originally Published