MPS, the German label headquartered for years in the Black Forest continues its valuable reissue program with three albums from the 1960s and ‘70s, when the label attracted established artists as well as those whose renown was rising.
Among the veterans was pianist Oscar Peterson, whose trio MPS teamed with the sophisticated vocal quartet The Singers Unlimited. Playing with delicacy that may surprise listeners accustomed to his vigor, Peterson is superb in ballads including “It Never Entered My Mind,” ”The Shadow Of Your Smile” and “A Child Is Born.” Throughout, the Singers Unlimited weave their celebrated magic of texture and harmony. The singers float wordlessly as Peterson and the trio thrive on the rich harmonies of composer Patrick Williams’ “Catherine.” The album opens with what might have been a surprise in 1971 but has now become a standard—the Sesame Street theme. Peterson’s sidemen of the period, bassist George Mraz and drummer Louis Hayes, are restrained but firm in support.
Monty Alexander, Here Comes The Sun (MPS)
In his late twenties when this was recorded, pianist Alexander had technique that led critics to compare him to Peterson. His keyboard acumen was leavened with elements of the Caribbean music of his home territory. He began playing piano when he was four years old in Kingston, Jamaica. He achieved musical maturity early. The playing of Nat Cole captivated him. By the time he moved to New York in the 1960s he had collaborated with a cross section of the world’s best jazz musicians. I once wrote of Alexander’s “piquantly hesitant placement of notes at precisely the correct strategic spots behind the beat.” “Brown Skin Gal” embodies that aspect of his work. For a couple of years after the Dave Brubeck Quartet disbanded, Eugene Wright was Alexander’s bassist. His drummer for this session was Duffy Jackson, the ebullient son of Woody Herman bassist Chubby Jackson. The title Beatles tune and Miles Davis’s “So What” demonstrate Alexander’s ability to personalize music, whatever its source.
Mark Murphy, Midnight Mood MPS)
The purity of Murphy’s intonation, lyric interpretation and diction in Hoagy Carmichael’s “I Get Along Without You Very Well” make it one his most memorable performances on record. In this 1967 album there are few of the pretensions to super-hipness that sometimes took the edge off Murphy’s singing. Here, he almost entirely avoids the excessive manipulation of vowels that later in his career could be an affectation. Murphy and an impressive sextet from the Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band work together hand-in-glove. Bassist Jimmy Woode and drummer Clarke fashioned a cherished set of chords (think “Doxy” and “It’s A Wonderful World”) into an original called “I Don’t Want Nothin’.” Murphy assumes command of the time and becomes the driving force of the piece. Elsewhere, there are effective solos by tenor saxophonist Ronnie Scott, trombonist Åke Persson and trumpeter Jimmy Deuchar.