The ‘Maharaja of the keyboard’ certainly got good representation tonight, and as frontman pianist Craig Milverton acknowledged, Oscar Peterson was, in his view, the greatest of all jazz pianists. Most of the lineup Milverton had chosen to give us his own inimitable take on tonight were O.P. numbers, with the opening piece being ‘Hallelujah Time’, a fast-paced tune with cascades of breakneck jauntiness on the keys. What followed was ‘Night Train’, which had me settling a little deeper into my seat with its mellow rolling jive.
Milverton did something during this piece which I came to realize as we progressed through the set was a signature move by him - towards the latter half of the number, when the groove was really well established, he quietened his tone on the keyboard to a very soft, muted playing style, softly exploring the chords underlying the whole thing, and resonating peacefully with those, before rebuilding the energy and pace once again to bring it home. This also gave room for Paul Jeffries’ fabulous bass lines to take centre stage. I came to think of these softer middle sections as the Milverton interludes.
‘Wheatlad’, a curiously pastoral piece of jazz, followed, providing a palette for Milverton to daub notes from up and down the keyboard onto an acoustic canvas. ‘The Love Ballad’ was up next and then ‘Falling in Love with Love’, though Milverton introduced it as ‘Falling in Love with
There was a real interplay between Milverton and Milward, who obviously share more than a syllable after their eighteen years working together (though Milverton did claim they’d been working together since four years before his birth, which I could almost imagine was true!). Milward also shared this uncanny ability to conjure profound feeling via the softest touch, and some of his solos worked the rhythms of the drum all the way down to the quietest rattle, as the audience listened rapt to his every tap. The last number before the interval was ‘Topsy’ which featured the best drum solo of the lot.
After the break, a piano solo started us back in, followed by a gloriously bluesy ‘Hymn to Freedom’ which had a real gospel feel, replete with shimmering keys and drums. We were treated to a versatile array of numbers in the second half including Lefko’s ‘You Look Good To Me’ which Milverton described as ‘starting classical… before reaching a really righteous groove’, a bossa nova number entitled ‘L’Impossible’, a fast filibuster of a track by the name of ‘Place Saint Henri’ featuring another standout drum solo, before the trio closed out the night for us with O.P’s ‘Tenderly’ and a lovely encore rendition of Cole Porter’s ‘I Love You’.
Milverton comes off as a grand master with a sense of humour - gruffly joking his way through the set between numbers, and transporting us elsewhere within each piece. A wonderful night from a real jazz pianist.