The release of this record, “Live in Baden Switzerland” (featuring Reggie Johnson & Ed Thigpen) is a landmark event. Not only is it Jones’ first trip to that venue, but it might very well be his finest live performance…
There was a time when the name of Oliver Jones used to be mentioned in connection with that great Montreal-born pianist—the legendary and late Oscar Peterson. But that was when the much younger Jones played an almost reverential role towards Peterson and indeed, to a certain extent he might still do so on occasion, but Jones is very much his own man today. In fact the only thing linking the two is their awesome virtuosity. However Jones’ sense of narrative is very different. He accentuates the upbeat and often, like a traveling griot, likes to repeat parts of phrases to create dramatic effect. He uses dynamics more in support of his fellow soloists, playing in forceful crescendos when he is soloing, with well-placed and formidable arpeggios every so often. His sense of harmonics is almost overpowering sometimes, especially when leading from introduction to the actual melody itself; then his left hand becomes a Gatling gun of old, unleashing a barrage of chords and their variations almost teasing the melody into existence.
The release of this record, Live in Baden Switzerland (featuring Reggie Johnson & Ed Thigpen) is a landmark event. Not only is it Jones’ first trip to that venue, but it might very well be his finest live performance for he is not only on top of his game, but his powerful trio also includes one of Oscar Peterson’s regular drummers for a while, Ed Thigpen. Moreover the bond between the two is so strong that Thigpen responds to the pianist also like he did his old boss. On “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” the drummer plays one of the great melodic solos egged on by the pianist, in the middle of the song and their exchange could well be the finest between a pianist and drummer on record. For a taste of Oliver Jones’ own formidable virtuoso playing and his storytelling abilities there is the almost mystical medley of George Gershwin show tunes and songs including a dazzling display of musicality on the segment that includes “Embraceable You” and “I Got Rhythm.”
Jones’s celebrated relationship with the blues is evident on two memorable charts, both his own “Blues for Helen” and “Something for Chuck”. On the latter the use of the damper to create the feeling of the crescendo in a gospel preaching comes as close to bringing fire on the mountain as any piano solo could ever be and the mesmerizing end he bring to the piece is as if he intends to pin the melody onto the mind’s mind permanently, which he does with dramatic effect. His choice of “’Round Midnight” is a challenge to say the least, for it is piece most commonly associated with Thelonious Monk and the two pianists are stylistically so different that it would be almost a clash of styles, but the rare beauty of Jones’ version is marked by the brevity of his rendition. “Snuggles” is challenge for both Thigpen and the formidable bassist Reggie Johnson, for Jones sets off at a blistering pace. However both accompanists are up to the task and perform brilliantly, especially Johnson, who might easily have torn the skin off his fingers in the bargain. And what record could be complete without a performance of Oscar Peterson’s glorious “Hymn to Freedom” to an awe-struck audience that is so rapt by the performance that it reacts almost like an audience at a classical concert even when Jones plays with onomatopoeic glee and such drama that he could be issuing an operatic overture. Hats off to Jim West and the team at Justin Time for issuing this masterpiece.
Tracks: Falling in Love with Love; Emily; Blues for Helen; Up Jumped Spring; Just a Closer Walk With Thee; George Gershwin Melody: (Rhapsody in Blue; I Loves You Porgy; Bess You is My Woman; It Ain’t Necessarily So; Summertime; The Man I Love; Embraceable You; I Got Rhythm); Something for Chuck; ‘Round Midnight; Snuggles; Hymn to Freedom.
Personnel: Oliver Jones: piano; Reggie Johnson: bass; Ed Thigpen: drums.
Oliver Jones – Justin Time website: www.justin-time.com
Label: Justin Time Records
Release date: February 2012