Oscar Peterson – Exclusively For My Friends [Album list & covers follows] – MPS-Jazz Records 0209478MSW (Germany) – Box of 6 audiophile stereo LPs – orig. 1963-1968 [9/30/14] (Distr. By Naxos) *****:
(Oscar Peterson – piano; Ray Brown or Sam Jones – bass; Louis Hayes, Bobby Durham and Ed Thigpen – drums)
Flight. 1 – Act
Flight. 2 – Chat between girls
Flight. 3 – The way I really play
Flight. 4 – My favorite instrument (solo)
Flight. 5 – Sweet mood
Flight. 6 – Traveling on
Oscar Peterson considered his 1960s MPS recordings to be the pinnacle of his recorded production. His series of Exclusively for my friends The LPs were made in the private studio of Hans Georg Bruner Schwer, who both produced and designed the six recordings. Schwer was the owner of MPS Records, and the sessions were organized as “house concerts” at his home with special guests. Hans was not in the room Oscar was playing, but upstairs in his studio, watching the musicians play on a closed circuit and recording the songs.
MPS has reissued the six recordings in LP 180 gram format in this magnificent box set. The analog lacquer cutout is from the remastered tapes. Each individual LP has the original gatefold artwork with a glossy varnish finish. There is no digital editing. The original Studer analog equalization and tape recorders were used to make minimal modifications (ie, “give a cymbal a little more sparkle.”) Their intention was to provide the best analog sound and “Stay true to the original recording”. These sessions were performed from 1963 and continued until 1968 when Oscar traveled to Germany to record for Hans Schwer.
Peterson’s playing clarity is richly featured on this audiophile set. There is no harshness like you find on some digital recordings. Schwer puts you squarely in his living room. Hans was himself a pianist and declares “I record the piano as if I were sitting immediately next to it, as if I was playing it myself …”
Above are the six LP cover art. The highlights are numerous and include:
A tender read of “I have a crush on you” on Vol. 1 (action). Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen compose softly behind OP as he strokes the melody. The title song of Vol. 2, “Girl Talk”, will have you tapping your foot while Peterson rocks the blues. His touch is so inviting and the energy in the room so infectious, as he digs and then “glides home safely.”
On Vol. 3, The way I really play, Oscar is paired with Sam Jones and Bobby Durham. The opening track, “Waltzing is Hip” features Durham in an intense wild Buddy Rich-type drum solo after a very exuberant piano practice by OP. Next comes an extended version of Ellington’s “Satin Doll” in which Peterson plays a magnificent chord solo.
Flight. 4, My favorite instrument is a unique session in Oscar’s discography, since it is a solo album. He shows the full range of his talents, leaving a fitting comparison to Art Tatum, as OP allows descents to sway as easily as Tatum, and that means something… “Someone to watch over me” and “Bye Bye Blackbird “stand out in particular.
Flight. 5, Sweet mood has Oscar back with Sam Jones and Bobby Durham. Jones’ “walking” skills on bass anchored Oscar, and Durham is an assertive drummer. The song selection is standard, but includes new era favorites like “Nica’s Dream” by Horace Silver and “Who Can I Turn To” by Anthony Newley. The latter doubled the tempo, and OP specifies that it is his “favorite” track on the album.
Flight. 6, Traveling on is superb as we hear Peterson on the gospel-flavored title track, then shine on one of my favorite ballads, “Emily” by Johnny Mandel. Oscar’s good faith with bossa nova is confirmed in Jobim’s “Quiet Nights”. (and all on one side of an album…).
Oscar Peterson finalists will want to purchase this exquisite set to hear the piano master at his best in resplendent audiophile acoustics. Exclusively for my friends would make a well-deserved Christmas present for jazz piano fanatics.
—Jeff Krow[Is the boxed set of vinyls worth $183? Yes, for vinyl fans with good turntables. Those set up for SACD playback should be aware that all six of these albums are currently available on stereo SACD, though some are very expensive—as much as $96 each, while some are only $18. There are also about 17 other Peterson albums on SACD at Amazon, including some multichannel. Some of his hits with others include two Telarc classics: the Canadian Suite Trail of Dreams, and The Very Tall Band Live at the Blue Note, his terrific West Side Story album, and Ben Webster Meets Oscar Peterson…Ed.]