A Farewell and a Last Review
by Thierry Pérémarti
New York correspondent for Jazzman
Intense! He was intense, that's it! Fragile, naïve, and impressionable—stubborn, demanding, but incredibly generous. Yes, he gave it all. Because there was no room for things half done, half lived or half loved. Today I still don't understand how he did what he did. That piano was so big ("all those teeth" he said at four years old), and he tamed all of them.
On New Year's Eve, he played my son's keyboard; a ridiculous battery-operated 19-key toy. That was his last time, his last song, "Jingle Bells." He was my friend. "It's been 13 years, motherfucker! Hope we'll have 13 more years," he said, raising his Champagne glass at midnight.
It's been a week and I still can't believe it. He's going to call. Pianos are waiting.
— January 1999
He's happy, Michel Petrucciani, and we can hear it. The man has blossomed; he has found the balance necessary for a new creative outburst. If his art and his life have drawn from Romanticism (imagination, intensity, naked emotion, sublimation, a certain sense of drama, of the infinite, the yearning to travel young—Big Sur—striking out on his own); today his music expresses a new and unexpected joviality, and this last recording displays it.
Today the pianist-composer exhibits a disarming simplicity in his writing, reflecting the simplicity with which his life has lately been blessed. It is this happiness, this balance that are at the core. But make no mistake: Petrucciani still displays enormous sensuality, an untiring and measureless appetite for life, and for that matter, his expanding career these past two years has propelled him into the ranks of the most prominent European artists. His next recording projects—solo, trio, or philharmonic—will not fail to prove it.
He must move, go forward, create new situations. Michel Petrucciani is anything but an indulgent musician, frozen in what he has already won or in what suits him best. He loves adventure, even if he meticulously measures the risks. In 1987, many believed him to be forever entrenched in the acoustic trio. But he simply had his head somewhere else, ears and heart more electric. Even if it meant disappointing a good part of his French audience, he demonstrated that the freshness of his music could just as well accommodate itself to synthesizers and an electric bass.
In 1994, at the very time one imagined him nearer the duet or piano solo, he surprised us with a string quartet, a difficult and risky formula but he met the challenge. In 1997, after spending months and months perfecting the art of solo piano, he has put together a trio with a fantastic rhythm section—Anthony Jackson, Steve Gadd—modulating into a surprising sextet. Throughout the past seventeen years (since the release of "Flash," his first record in 1980) Michel Petrucciani has trusted the audience to recognize the richness of his talent.
Because he plays a jazz of the heart, of dazzling emotions around dancing melodies, closer to popular yearnings than to flights of intellectual fancy and cerebral coldness; because today the virtuoso of kinetic composition writes filmic themes of disconcerting familiarity (cf. Brazilian Like, Guadeloupe, On Top of the Roof, and particularly Colors, with its abrupt spatiality as early as the first phrase of the theme, setting a temporality and throwing the melody into relief in a very personal way), Michel Petrucciani is the pianist of miraculous immediacy, of rediscovered happiness—as if we always have known these tunes—whether he seizes the piano around the waist with an unprecedented power or illuminates it with his sublime touch.
The arrangements of the legendary Bob Brookmeyer, poetry made-to-measure, show the compositions to their best advantage, preserving their character and at the same time setting off their identity. This record also shows a playful sense of humor and moods (bossa nova, lounge music, science fiction), with nods to Rodgers & Hart (Petite Louise), Return to Forever (35 Seconds of Music and More), Maurice Chevalier (On Top of the Roof) and the Hollywood musical (Chloé Meets Gershwin, which recalls A Foggy Day and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers).
In New York City, where he hasn't recorded since 1992, Michel Petrucciani has just penned the most captivating storyboard of his career.
— September 1997
Copyright ©1999 Steve Voce
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