Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Oliver Jones Trio: Live in Baden, Switzerland

Justin Time Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Live in Baden, Switzerland

Thank goodness for folks who don’t dispose of recording sessions that, for reasons unknown, aren’t released after completion. This album, which stars Canadian-born pianist Oliver Jones and his trio, features a concert that took place in Baden, Switzerland, on May 20, 1990. 

It’s an absolute gem.

Jones, born in a Montreal neighborhood in 1934, lived just a few doors away from Oscar Peterson. Jones was a child prodigy: At age 3, he could play tunes he had heard on the radio just once. He was only 5 when he made his “debut” at Montreal’s Union United Church. He studied classical piano; for an eight-year period, his teacher was Daisy (Peterson) Sweeney, Oscar Peterson’s sister.

Jones came relatively late to jazz; he worked primarily in bands in Quebec, and toured extensively in the Caribbean and the United States, playing Top 40 songs. He began to sit in with jazz groups during this period, but not until the early 1980s did he devote himself to jazz on a permanent basis.

During the next 20 years, Jones toured the world but continued to live — and work — primarily in Canada. He taught at both Laurentian and McGill Universities during the 1980s and ’90s, and he has won numerous Juno, Felix and other Canadian awards. Although he “retired” in 2000, he remains active.

Jones’ trio for this Baden concert featured bassist Reggie Johnson and drummer Ed Thigpen. Johnson, born in the States in 1940, began his career in the ’60s; he was a Swiss resident at the time this concert took place (and still lives there). Thigpen was born in the States in 1930. He worked with Andy Kirk during the 1930s and ’40s, then with icons such as Lennie Tristano, Bud Powell, Billy Taylor, Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown. Thigpen also toured with Ella Fitzgerald for five years. He moved to Denmark in 1974 and lived there until his death in 2010. 

This album captured these artists at the peak of their careers. The menu includes American Songbook standards (“Fallin’ in Love with Love,” “Emily” and medley of Gershwin compositions), traditional gospel (“Just a Closer Walk with Thee”); jazz standards (“Up Jumped Spring,” “ ‘Round Midnight” and “Hymn to Freedom”); and three of Jones’ compositions. 

These guys really swing, particularly on Jones’ charts. “Blues for Helen” has a mid-tempo groove; “Something for Chuck” is a slow blues number; and “Snuggles” is a burner that is equal to the best up-tempo stuff Peterson ever did. 

You’ll find hours of pleasure in this release, thanks to these super-talented artists. Kudos to Justin Time Records, for unearthing this treasure.

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