Friday, December 12, 2014

Steve Grossman and Michel Petrucciani

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

In Paris on January 4, 1998, Francis Dreyfus, the owner of Dreyfus Jazz, was having dinner with pianist extraordinaire Michel Petrucciani.

As Dreyfus recounted: “We’re talking about our projects and I tell him that I am producing a new album by [tenor saxophonist] Steve Grossman.” Michel says: “Look no further for a pianist, I’m there! In fact I’d like to co-produce!!”

On January 23, 24, and 25, 1998, Michel and Steve assembled with bassist Andy McKee and drummer Joe Farnsworth at Studio Davout in Paris to record the ten tracks that make up The Steve Grossman Quartet with Michel Petrucciani [Dreyfus Jazz FDM 36602-2].

On January 5, 1999, a year-to-the-day plus one that Francis announced his plans to make this recording, Michel Petrucciani was dead at the ridiculously young age of 36, prompting Francis Marmande to write in La Chambre d'Amour:

“If the death of a musician touches us in a special way, it is because they take their secrets with them — the secret of their unique musical sound, the secret of their precise relation to space, air and the movement of their bodies that they alone knew how to produce.”

Because a piano makes the same eighty-eight keys available to any Jazz musician who sits at it, the instrument’s egalitarian functionalism hampers the development of an individual sound or “secret” such as those developed by brass and reed players.

But Michel’s pianism and indomitable will [another story altogether in terms of what he had to physically overcome to even sit on the bench of the instrument] set him apart for most Jazz pianists and made his sound as instantly recognizable as Art Tatum, Bud Powell or Phineas Newborn, Jr.

Hearing Michel Petrucciani play Jazz piano was an unforgettable experience and remains so today thanks to the many recordings he left behind, among them, The Steve Grossman Quartet with Michel Petrucciani [Dreyfus Jazz FDM 36602-2].

In the sleeve notes to the CD, Steve Grossman comments: “I first met Michel Petrucciani in New York City in the mid-1980’s. I was fortunate to be a witness to his incredible talent and development from that time for many years to his last studio recording with me. At this session, he was always ready to give all he had plus more! He was always an inspiration. I will miss him.”

In their Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed., Richard Cook and Brian Morton offer these observation on The Steve Grossman Quartet with Michel Petrucciani [Dreyfus Jazz FDM 36602-2]:

“Steve Grossman has a prodigious command of the saxophone and a fearless energy which puts him in the same class as Michael Brecker and Bill Evans. [His] … sometimes faceless facility can also make him appear as just another Rollins/Coltrane disciple, [largely because] most of his records find him peeling off muscular solos against a conventional post-bop rhythm section.

Grossman plays with real purpose and feel. Petrucciani shines as always, and even though he often plays more circumspectly than he would in a solo or trio situation, his solos are always worth attention.”  

The CD is one that I play often and is among the most treasured in my collection; the two tracks from the recording that serve as soundtracks to the following videos may serve as examples as to why.

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