A Great Petrucciani Concert from 1988

JAZZ Aktion 08_13

ONE NIGHT IN KARLSRUHE / PETRUCCIANI: 13th. One for Us. Mr. K.J. She Did it Again. La Champagne. WARREN: There Will Never Be Another You. ELLINGTON: In a Sentimental Mood. G. & I. GERSHWIN: Embraceable You. COLTRANE: Giant Steps. RODGERS-HART: My Funny Valentine / Michel Petrucciani, pno; Gary Peacock, bs; Roy Haynes, dm / SWR Jazzhaus JAH-476 (live: Karlsruhe, July 7, 1988)

This 30-year-old concert tape captures Michel Petrucciani during his first flush of success, after his first recordings for Blue Note (Pianism, 1986 and Michel Plays Petrucciani, 1988). As part of a tour to help promote his second album, Petrucciani made a stop in Karlsruhe, where he gave this concert with bassist Gary Peacock and legendary bop drummer Roy Haynes, who had played with Bird and Dizzy.

Petrucciani was among the first younger artist to revive the concept of the piano trio after the unexpected death of Bill Evans, though his own style was (and remains) busier, not much related to Evans. He’s more like McCoy Tyner, or Herbie Hancock in those rare moments when the latter actually plays jazz and not fusion or funk.

And he is clearly in great form here. As usual, Haynes is both a lively and sensitive accompanist (Lester Young also appreciated his talents) and Peacock enlivens the rhythm with his swinging. But what grabs the ear is the pianist himself. Petrucciani is not only a great technician but also a strong believer in constructing his solos logically; he doesn’t play superfluous notes or inane “outside” licks and crushed chords. He understands the structure of each piece he performs and thus moves with the chords. And this is as true of his own tunes as much as the standards he plays on this set.

A good example is Harry Warren’s There Will Never Be Another You. After briefly stating the melody for a chorus, he’s off to the races in the second, but in doing so actually creates a contrafact, i.e. a new melody based on the chords of Warren’s song, and even in his third chorus he is still using a few notes of the original melody as part of his further improvisation. It’s a breathtaking feat, one that many aspiring pianists should endeavor to listen to. Haynes is much busier on this track, pushing the bass and piano forward with tremendous licks, but note how he fits into the surrounding structure as well. He doesn’t play flashy just for the sake of doing so. Peacock’s solo on this one is fairly staid from a rhythmic perspective and not at all dazzling, but he, too, manages to fit into the tune’s structure.

In Duke Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood, Petrucciani plays the little-known opening refrain of the tune before launching into the much better-known chorus, yet it is at the 3:58 mark, when he start improvising, that one’s ears pick up and start following his musical mind. At 6:14 he doubles the tempo yet somehow continues his musical train of thought.

This sort of musical creativity continues throughout the set, with Petrucciani continually surprising and delighting the listener with his musical acumen, even in pieces like One For Us or Mr. K.J. which seem to consist of a few unrelated notes tossed together to make an ersatz melodic line. Haynes also remains crisp and precise, Peacock supportive and buoyant. In Embraceable You, taken at a surprisingly brisk tempo, Peacock states the melody on bass (which, sadly, sounds out of tune here), but displaces some of the rhythm of the original notes, creating, if not an entirely new song, an entirely new version of the song, and the pianist follows in kind. Part of Petrucciani’s solo on this one consists of rapidly fluttering triplets, but triplets that follow the chord structure and thus create another new perspective on the music.

She Did It Again starts off with a bang, as a fast-paced boogie number headed for the finish line at Pimlico. An interesting thought: although the audience whoops and cheers on every tune, did they really pick up on what was going on musically? Or were they just impressed by the technique and flash of the musicians? I always wonder about that, even with jazz audiences, who generally know at least a little more about music than most classical audiences. On Giant Steps, for instance, I noted that although Petrucciani plays it well, he only does so by simplifying the complex chord sequence, which is meant to be B min7, D7, G min7, Bb7, Eb min7, G min7, Bb7, Eb min7, F#7, Bb min7. Try it sometime: it “sounds” fairly normal but isn’t!

Yet the concert as a whole is simply marvelous, as much as a treat for Haynes fans as for followers of the pianist. A real surprise is the very fast performance of My Funny Valentine, the slow jazz ballad supreme, on which Peacock and Haynes also contribute mightily and which ends up as a calypso tune. Highly recommended!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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