It was the South Bank show, a BBC jazz institution during the 70s and 80s, that commissioned Oscar Peterson to create a nine-piece suite for the passion of Jesus. Works like this had been part of the jazz canon before, courtesy of the likes of Duke Ellington and Mary Lou Williams, yet Peterson's has gone down in history as an instrumental masterwork, though it was never recorded and placed on record.
Joined by Niels Pedersen on bass and Martin Drew on drums, he leads the trio through the nine pieces in a 35-minute recording that was only shown once in 1984 (and repeated on Good Friday for a couple of years afterwards). Outside of the UK viewers watching at the right time, Peterson's telling of the Resurrection story remained largely unknown to the public, save for those who had the pleasure of hearing it live.
What elevates and characterizes this music is the treatment Peterson gives to the scenes he is describing: specific bible quotes can be heard repeated in Peterson's notes that copy famous cadences: "Are You Really King of the Jews?" What's more, the episodes in the story are dramatized in the arrangements – we can hear the march of Roman soldiers on "The Trial" and the accusations being thrown back and forth between bass and drums on "Denial."
An almost lost work of genius in jazz history that has been experiencing something of a well-deserved renaissance.
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