Some jazz fans might think that placing Oscar Peterson between Herbie Mann and Stanley Turrentine on the same concert bill is the equivalent of ordering prime beef on stale white bread. Peterson's virtuosity was undeniably the highlight of Saturday night's Wolf Trap Jazz Festival concert, but the evening did hold a few surprises for the overflow crowd.
The concert got off to a delightful start with an unscheduled performance of Byron Morris' "Three Saxes for Lester," a wonderfully evocative tribute to Lester Young. Mann then unveiled his new trio featuring two percussionists -- one on tablas, the other on congas. The music they played was a welcome departure from Mann's disco flirtations. Their imaginative, exotic textures and patterns inspired the flutist and he extended a delicate, precise touch to ballads, blues and breezy bagatelles.
Peterson's set was stunning. He's recorded so often that it's easy to take his artistry for granted; that is, until you see him perform. His right hand is an orchestra in itself, transforming standards ("People," "Misty," "Who Can I Turn To?") into enormously prolix statements and then, quite suddenly, reducing them to their melodic essence. Working with bassist John Heard, Peterson enthralled the audience with an extended Ellington medley, ranging from a rollicking "C Jam Blues" to a thunderously percussive "Caravan."