Michel Petrucciani: Solo In Denmark

In a previously unreleased Danish concert from 1990 the French virtuoso makes another of his spirited 'invasions' of the piano

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Small in stature (he had to have his pianos specially adapted) Michel Petrucciani (1962-1999) was in every respect a jazz giant. This previously unreleased solo performance ranks with two of his other solo albums – Au Theatre Des Champs-Elysées (1994) and The Complete Concert In Germany (1997).

As in all his live (and studio) recordings, he “invades” the piano to produce a unique sound – daring and high-speed runs, meditative reflections and adventurous improvisations on standard songs which he transformed, deconstructed and reassembled. As he liked to say “I’m not playing to your head, but to your soul. When I play, I’m like a bird flying over the landscape, and I can land anywhere.” He was also a talented composer.

All of these qualities were evident on this concert and audibly appreciated by a rapt audience. The opening number, P’Tit Louis (his own composition) has Petrucciani in a romantic and fluently gentle mood, with evident shades of Bill Evans, his first influence.

In A Sentimental Mood reprises the melody in its first chorus, and then with logical but surprising shifts of tempo, proceeds to explore and illustrate every nuance of the Ducal ballad. She Did It Again, another Petrucciani composition, is taken at a fast boogie tempo, with mischievous quotes from Sonny Rollins (St Thomas) and Miles Davis (Jean Pierre) and in conclusion, an edited Caravan (Juan Tizol).

Monk’s ’Round Midnight receives a thorough and satisfying exploration, while Estate prolongs the reflective mood. Blue Monk sounds even better than when performed by its composer. The final 13-minute medley has him gently teasing out and embellishing the essence of such standards as Autumn Leaves, Prelude To A Kiss and Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.

This is a rich and rewarding album, full of musical surprises. Together with Martial Solal, Petrucciani was one of the most gifted French jazz pianists. As critic and writer Mike Zwerin, a confirmed admirer, commented: ”It can be said without rhetoric that [Petrucciani] was the personification of the victory of the spirit over the flesh.”

Discography
P’Tit Louis; In A Sentimental Mood; She Did It Again; Round Midnight; Estate; Blue Monk; Medley: Autumn Leaves; Rachid; Prelude To A Kiss; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; Miles Davis’ Licks; Nardis (55.27)
Petrucciani (p). The Riverboat Jazz Festival, 23 June 1990, Silkeborg Church, Denmark.
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