Written by 4:45 am Audiophile Music

Review: Oscar Peterson Plays, Complete on CD and Tidal

Mark Smotroff relishes a digital reissue for a selfish analog reason…

I’ll be bluntly honest with you folks (as I always am):  the new reissue of the complete run of composer-driven albums by Canadian pianist Oscar Peterson is a great thing for fans, audiophiles and record collecting geeks like me. 

AR-OscarPetersonPlaysBoxCover225.jpgThe new five CD set, called Oscar Peterson Plays, out now from Universal Music Group, gives you all ten of the albums Peterson recorded between 1952 and 1954, each featuring original album art and liner notes all for about thirty dollars (do the math — that is a steal!). They sound really good even in their 16-bit, 44.1 kHz presentation and the set comes with a detailed booklet explaining the significance of the series.  

A sampling of some of the albums on Tidal revealed that they sound similar to the CDs, also presented at 16/44.  Curiously, these reissues were transferred from disc sources, not the original tapes. Not sure why but there are any number of possibilities such as damaged or lost original tape sources — when he made these recordings Oscar was not quite the enormously popular, near-household name he later became,  so it is entirely feasible to speculate that these early recordings were not cared for well over the years, especially in the early days of vinyl.  Clef Records changed hands numerous times over the years, morphing into Verve Records which was ultimately purchased by MGM and now today its all part of Universal so… it doesn’t take much to imagine 70 year old recordings getting lost or damaged along the way. 

AR-OscarPetersonPlays225.jpgThat said, these transfers sound remarkably clean — obviously taken from very clean copies of the albums because there is very little in the way of surface noise I’ve noticed thus far. The recordings sounds full bodied and I’m not hearing any harsh edges damaging Oscar Peterson’s warm Piano (nor the sweet Guitar stylings of Barney Kessell and Ray Brown’s big fat Bass thump). 

Comparing these new incarnations to the original LPs I own, the new versions have much over them from a sonic standpoint. Piano has often suffered in the world of LPs thus presenting this music in a digital form ensures that there will be very little in the way of wow and flutter from LP pressing anomalies. Also, given that Clef Records was effectively an indie label without the resources of the bigger labels — sounding fairly compressed and on sometimes not the best pressings (at least the ones I have) — hearing this music in a relatively very clean form is quite a revelation.  

AR-OscarPetersonPlaysDukeDSM225.jpgThe only thing that the old LPs have over this new edition has nothing to do with audiophile fidelity:  the original album cover art (included in the set in small CD scaled form) is fantastic and worth owning if you have them.  David Stone Martin’s artwork is fabulous and the original design comes in ten different colors, so from a collectors standpoint, the LPs are still important. 

However, from an audiophile vantage, the new reissues make the old Clef editions pale — unless of course you might have access to an unplayed or near mint original pressing. The only thing that would make me happier here is if they put this music out on a high resolution Blu-ray disc or via a high res download or stream. Maybe, someday…

AR-OscarPetersonBackCoverPic225.jpgFor now, I selfishly hope that many vinyl collectors dump their old Clef LPs of Oscar Peterson Plays when they buy this five CD set so I’ll finally be able to add them to my collection without breaking the bank! Joking aside, after all these years I’ve only come across these original LPs a few times out in the wilds of record collecting in stores and swap meets and such (I have the Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and Jerome Kern discs) so they can be elusive. There are, however, numerous reissues on other labels up on Discogs.com, so poke around if you like shopping that way.  

But for the price, this Oscar Peterson Plays set is a no brainer and a welcome collection to have on hand in CD form as well as on Tidal.

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