Oscar Peterson's actually one of the few jazz performers well-represented on DVD, and this new disc presents Peterson with bassist Niels-Henning Oersted Petersen and drummer Martin Drew at a June 2, 1985 performance at the Philharmonie in Berlin, Germany.
The actual performance staging is pretty clever, as the trio are doused with high contrast lighting which hides the roving cameras a few feet away, yet allows the surrounding audience to get a good view of the men as they jam through 10 pieces. Close-miked to capture every drum hit, bass strumming, and melodious piano work, the DVD presents the concert in its original 2.0, stereo and new Dolby and DTS 5.1 mixes. The 5.1 tracks don't suffer from any remixed overkill, and it's mostly a careful modification of frequencies to isolate the warm, analogue bass to the front surrounds, and emphasize ambient reverb and audience applause in the rear surrounds.
The original PAL video master's been smoothened for this NTSC conversion, softening some of the grain, and stabilizing some of the colour phase issues, though some are still present. There's a loss of red and green at the top, resulting in a visible blue band at the screen's top layer, and occasionally one catches minor artifacting during lap dissolves of tight shots with active fingering from the musicians. It doesn't detract from the performances, but the limitations of mid-eighties tube cameras are evident in this otherwise well-mastered and crisp-sounding DVD.
If you listen to rather that sit down and watch this DVD, you're missing out on some beautiful intimate moments between the musicians, and footage of their incredible dexterity, as everyone gets fair time from the cameramen, and the edits accurately follow the generous solos in every piece, including those by bassist Pedersen, and drummer Drew (the latter getting solo time in the medley “Skylark-My Foolish Heart,” and “Caravan”).
Peterson's hands, whether shifting between Bop, Swing, or modernism, frequently move so fast, the tube camera ends up with a blur of motion, much like a hummingbird's active wings. There's nice exchanges between the musicians – Drew and Pedersen sometimes reveal their own fascination when Peterson begins a tune with a long, elegiac solo, as with “Who Can I Turn To” – and the trio is so supportive of each other in every piece.
“Cakewalk” is a major highlight, as it demonstrates the tight dynamics between the trio. Bassist Pedersen dominates the piece with the melodic core, and Peterson picks up the second half on piano before letting Pedersen continue. The tempo is slow, soothing, and very mellow, and eventually Peterson begins a marvelous improv, wherein his hands magically glide across the keys, hitting complex chunks of notes & rhythms, yet still keeping pace with the shuffling tempo. Even when the pace gradually picks up and the volume jumps up a notch, Peterson doesn't force the tempo into something self-flattering.
The veteran pianist gets up and thanks the appreciative audience after almost every piece, shares the respectful applause with his ace trio, and continues with marvelously rendered improvs through to the end, closing the night with the bouncy “Caravan.”
Produced by Germany 's inakustic and distributed in the U.S. by MVD Visual, this release is further proof of how engaging live jazz remains, even within the home theatre environment. A lot of European performances have appeared overseas on video (not counting old VHS and laserdiscs), so hopefully this is the beginning of a bigger wave, giving us more veteran greats at their creative peak.
Also released simultaneously is Live in Vienna (aka Bass Encounters – Live in Concert), featuring a 2005 performance with double bassists Arni Egilsson, Niels-Henning Oersted Petersen, and Wayne Darling.
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan