Concerts Inedits

Michel Petrucciani

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Concerts Inedits Review

by Ken Dryden

Michel Petrucciani's diminutive stature was due to a genetic disorder that caused brittle bones and stunted his growth, but he figuratively stood tall among jazz pianists of the 1980s and 1990s, prior to his premature death at 36 in early 1999. This three-CD set consists of portions of three separate concerts by Petrucianni, none of which have been previously issued. The 1993 solo concert starts off with a breathtaking improvised introduction to "Autumn Leaves" that will fool all but the most attentive listener. He continues to tease his audience by adding a new vamp to "In a Sentimental Mood" that adds to the dreamy atmosphere originally conceived by its composer, Duke Ellington. "Take the 'A' Train" is played with an up-tempo boogie-woogie bassline with his right-handed improvisations played in his more familiar post-bop style. "Besame Mucho" was one of the pianist's favorite ballads (he complained that few people realized that it was written as a sad ballad), though this very poignant version is only slightly marred by his untimely coughing. The exotic introduction that he conceives for "Caravan" slowly builds the tension before the audience is finally tipped off as to his path. "'Round Midnight" is strangely mislabeled as "Around Midnight," which he signals with the repeated tolling of a single bass note; his interpretation is quite lyrical and haunting. His one original from this performance is "Hidden Joy," a somewhat meandering work that is not quite up to the level of his playing on the rest of this concert. The second CD in this set comes from a live 1994 club date with the marvelous Danish bassist Niels Henning Orsted Pedersen; they inspire one another greatly with their playful opener, "All the Things You Are." Both the pianist's lyrical playing and the bassist's atypical chord substitutions to "I Can't Get Started" make their interpretation of this classic ballad noteworthy. The very familiar "All Blues" receives more of a loping, cowboy-on-the-range-like treatment that is rather refreshing. "Beautiful Love" showcases both musician's formidable solo technique in a fine effort. A fun-filled romp through "Billie's Bounce" cracks up the audience in several places, while "My Funny Valentine" is a bop tour de force. The trio CD in this set dates from a 1994 Japanese concert with his brother Louis Petrucciani on bass and drummer Lenny White. The furious post-bop original "Manhattan" starts things in high gear, followed by a playful bossa nova original entitled "Charlie Brown" that was likely inspired by the late Vince Guaraldi's music for the Peanuts cartoon television specials. After flirting with a modal introduction only briefly, Petrucciani launches "On Green Dolphin Street" with a flourish, though occasional notes are hit hard enough to overwhelm the sound system. "Why?," written by Phillippe Petrucciani (the pianist's brother, a guitarist who doesn't appear on this release), is a spiraling bossa nova. "Tutu," the well-known Marcus Miller piece from Miles Davis' fusion era, seems a surprising choice for an acoustic trio, but it works rather well. The pianist's funky strut "Dumb Breaks" wraps up the set. Although the overall performances are not at the consistently high level one comes to expect from Michel Petrucciani, and there are sound problems in several places, fans of his music will overlook these minor flaws and seek out this set, which is warmly recommended.

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