Improvisation is a recurring thread on An Overgrown Path. Keith Jarrett is already well woven into the postings, and the colossus of Bill Evans(whose influence reaches as far as Gyorgy Ligeti) awaits. But today it is the turn of jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani.
First, let's get the obvious out of the way. Osteogenesis Imperfecta, the so-called "glass bones" disease meant that Michel Petrucciani grew to just three feet tall, weighed a mere fifty pounds, and was left fatally vulnerable to illness, resulting in his death in 1999 at the age of just thirty seven.
He made his impact before making allowances for those with disabilities quite rightly became the norm.But Michel Petrucciani needed no compromises, he was a giant of the keyboard in everything except stature. He was born in the land of the Gods, provence, to a French mother and Sicilain jazz pianist fatehr. Like Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, who he is often compared to, Petrucciani had a classical training, and his love for Debussy shines through his solo recordings. But his genius was for jazz, and this took him first to Paris, then to the states where his collabaration with saxophonist Charles Lloyd led to international stardom which lasted until his untimely death.
Fortunately Petrucciani left a legacy of inspired recordings. Of the trio work Live at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note 2435-38329), Kool Jazz Festival (Blue Note 2435-38329), and Trio in Tokyo (Blue Note 36605-9) are stand-outs, while the double CD of trio and solo work The Owl Years (Owl 548 288) gives a valuable overview including a three and a half minute video clip.
There are also some 'novelty' recordings including a swinging session with jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli (Flamingo on Dreyfus 36580), a not altogether convincing collabaration with string quartet and Dave Holland (Marvellous on Dreyfus 36564), a duo with his guitarist father (Conversations on Dreyfus 36617), and the acclaimed Conference de Presse (Dreyfus 36568) which is a duo with Eddy Louiss on Hammond Organ (you either love or hate the Hammond, I am in the latter group I am afraid).
If the trio recordings are great, and the novelties a little self indulgent, the solo piano work is sheer genius. Here we have the musicality of Bill Evans being extended into a more innovative language, and the creativity of Keith Jarrett without the interminable post-Lisztian monologues. Petrucciani can appeal both to the emotions with melody, and guts through the power of his playing (helped by first class piano sound, something Bill Evans was not always blessed with). Whether improvising from standards (e.g. Ellington's Caravan) or delivering his own compositions Petrucciani is up there with the best.
'Must have' solo recordings are Solo (Dreyfus 36597). Au Theatre Des Champs-Elysees (Dreyfus 36570), and a personal favourite Oracle's Destiny (OWL032).
Michel Petrucciani was a pianistic genius. The power of his playing transcended his physical limitations. He was also an extrovert, bon viveur (the sleeve notes for Flamingo include the credit "Michel Petrucciani's hats are supplied by Motsch
He packed more into thirty seven years than most of us will achieve in a full lifetime. Through his recordings he will endure as an example of what can be done.
People are always blaming circumstances for what they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get on in the world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can't find them, make them.
Mrs Warren's Profession by George Bernard Shaw
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