Saturday, June 12, 2021

Michel Petrucciani - The Richard Cook Annotations and Reviews

 © Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Not surprisingly, biographies about Michel Petrucciani are primarily available in French. These include Michel Petrucciani by Benjamin Halay [with prefaces by Michel’s son Alexandre and the noted French Jazz violinist Didier Lockwood] and Michel Par Petrucciani by Frederic Goaty and Jazz Magazine. The bio by Halay is also available in a German language edition.

There are several books containing selections of Michel’s sheet music including Michel Petrucciani: The Book by Armand Reynaud and Jeremy Brun and Michel Petrucciani: Great Musicians. Both of these also contain some anecdotal information about Michel as do Travels with Michel a DVD by Roger Willemsen and a DVD by Michael Radford which also comes with a small book.                                             

For those wishing to read more about Michel Petrucciani in the Jazz Literature written in English, aside from the insert notes to some of his CDs, Richard Cook’s writings on Michel provides an excellent starting point.

Until his death in 2007 at the relatively young age of 50, Richard D. Cook had been writing about music since the 1970s.

In his Obituary for The Independent, fellow and co-author Brian Cook said of Cook:

“Cook wrote with an accuracy and consistency of judgement that made him one of the most perceptive and admired commentators, not just on his beloved jazz, but on a whole range of other "sonics" (as he liked to put it), and not just in Britain but internationally. Though his fabled impatience was part of an Englishness cultivated quite without irony, it was also a measure of Cook's utter rejection – in life and music – of the sub-standard. He had an unerring nose for the ersatz and fudged, and though his opinions were strong, sometimes too strong for those who prefer a more liberal rhetoric, he was anything but a bully. He was very happy to see his few loose deliveries driven into the covers, his more controversial assertions batted straight back at him … 

In a decade that elevated style over substance and put old-fashioned musicianship at a discount, Cook always looked for substance and often found it in unexpected places. He wrote as trenchantly about Abba as he did about the improvising ensemble AMM, and his passion for singers, female singers in particular, enabled him to write perceptively about Nina Simone, Joan Armatrading and the soul diva Anita Baker …”

The largest of Cook’s writing projects is The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, co-authored with Brian Morton, now in its eighth edition (and retitled The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings). Other books followed, including a "biography" of the Blue Note label in 2001, and in 2006 a study, It's About That Time, of Miles Davis. The year before, Richard Cook's Jazz Encyclopedia, its title a reflection of his authority, was published by Penguin.

Michel Petrucciani


born 28 December 1962; died 5 January 1999

“Surely nobody who ever saw and heard this formidable man will ever forget him and his music. He was born into a French musical family: his father played guitar, his brothers guitar and bass, and Michel worked in the family band from an early age. 

He went to Paris in 1980 and began recording there: despite suffering from osteogenesis imperfecta, which restricted his growth and gave him health problems for all of his adult life, he developed a piano style which was swooningly romantic and seemed, to some listeners, to represent the incarnate successor to Bill Evans's music. 

His early records especially are laden with effusive playing which sometimes suggest Keith Jarrett in more decisive mode, but as he went forward he became more considered and diverse. 

He always kept heavy company, recording with such giants as Jim Hall, Wayne Shorter, Roy Haynes and Eddie Gomez, and he secured a contract with Blue Note in 1985, which brought him to a wider audience, enabling him to move to New York in 1999. There was a brief period where he dabbled in a kind of fusion, but he went back to straight-ahead playing in his final years. There was always a sense that Petrucciani was living on borrowed time, even as his music exuded a palpable joie de vivre, and in the end he died from pneumonia, worsened by complications arising from his physical condition.” Richard Cook's Jazz Encyclopedia

And these reviews are from The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, which Richard co-authored with Brian Morton and now in its eighth edition (and retitled The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings).

Michel Petrucciani (1962-99)

Born in Montpellier, he played in his father's band and began recording after moving to Paris, aged seventeen. Moved to the USA in 1982 and recorded for Blue Note, later for Dreyfus. A diminutive man handicapped by an obscure bone disease, he triumphed over any disability and became one of the most popular of concert performers, playing in a romantic post-bop style.

***(*) Days Of Wine And Roses

Owl548288-2 2CD Petrucciani; Lee Konitz (as); Robin

McClure (b); Jean-Francois Jenny-Clark (b); Aldo Romano

(d). 4/81-1/85.

**** 100 Hearts

Concord CD 43001 Petrucciani (p solo). 83.

**** Live At The Village Vanguard

Concord CCD 43006 2CD Petrucciani; Palle Danielsson (b);

Eliot Zigmund (d). 3/84.

There's a freshness and quicksilver virtuosity about Michel Petrucciani's early records which is entirely captivating, and they still sound terrific. While he is an adoring admirer of Bill Evans — “Call me Bill,” he once suggested to Jim Hall, who demurred -his extroverted attack places Evans's harmonic profundity in a setting that will energize listeners who find Evans too slow and quiet to respond to. 

Petrucciani was already a formidable talent when he began recording and, while some of these discs have been criticized for being the work of a pasticheur, that seems a curmudgeonly verdict on someone who enjoys the keyboard so much. 100 Hearts is arguably the best of the early sessions, if only for the marvellous title-tune which skips and leaps around its tone centre: in themes like this, Petrucciani staked a claim to be one of the great romantic virtuosos in contemporary jazz. Live At The Village Vanguard captures a typically rumbustious concert set by Petrucciani's trio of the day: 'Nardis' and 'Oleo' offer fresh annotations on well-worn classics and there are sparkling revisions of his own originals, 'To Erlinda' and 'Three Forgotten Magic Words'.

He made six albums for the independent Owl Label (now since acquired by the Universal Group) and Days Of Wine And Roses compiles a double-CD from this material. These sessions feel like his most European music; originals such as 'Eugenia' and 'Mike Pee' combine his brightness of touch with a more reflective feel in which the overall choice of tracks trades heavily. A contrast to the sometimes forced ebullience of his later music.

*** Pianism

Blue Note 746295-2 As above. 12/85.

***(*) Power Of Three

Blue Note 846427-2 Petrucciani; Wayne Shorter (ss, ts); Jim

Hall(g). 7/86.

*** Michel Plays Petrucciani

Blue Note 848679-2 Petrucciani; John Abercrombie (g); Gary

Peacock, Eddie Gomez (b); Roy Haynes, Al Foster (d); Steve

Thornton (perc). 9-12/87.

Petrucciani's first three albums for Blue Note provided a variety of challenges. Pianism is another excellent batch of six workouts by the trio who made the earlier live album, and if Zigmund and Danielsson sometimes sound a little underwhelming, that's partly due to the leader's brimming improvisations. Power Of Three is a slightly fragmented but absorbing concert meeting of three masters, skittish on 'Bimini' and solemnly appealing on 'In A Sentimental Mood.'

Plays Petrucciani is an all-original set which lines the pianist up against two magisterial rhythm sections, with Abercrombie adding some spruce counterpoint to two pieces. The smart hooks of 'She Did It Again' suggest that the pianist would have had a good living as a pop writer if he had decided to quit the piano, but the more considered pieces show no drop in imagination, even if some of the themes seem to be curtailed before the improvisations really start moving.

*** Live

Blue Note 780589-2 Petrucciani; Adam Holzman (ky); Steve

Logan (b); Victor Jones (d); Abdou M'Boup (perc). 11/91.

*** Promenade With Duke

Blue Note 780590-2 Petrucciani (p solo).

*** Marvellous

Dreyfus FDM 36564-2 Petrucciani; Dave Holland (b); Tony

Williams (d); Graffiti String Quartet, n.d.

The 1991 live album documents Petrucciani's 'fusion' band - not really any kind of jazz-rock, more a sitting of his famous virtuosity inside stiffer beats, with the dubious gratification of Holzman's synthesizer colourings. 'Miles Davis Licks' opens with boogie figures, then turns into a clever steal of some of the later Davis clichés. The sound of the band feels more dated than the rest of Michel's music, and the best moments come when the others stay as far in the background as possible, as in the elegant reading of ‘Estate'.

Michel's promenade is more with Strayhorn and Petrucciani than with Ellington. Beautifully played and recorded, but it's rather sombre after the elated feel of his earlier sessions. Although some of his other Blue Note albums have disappeared, there is a French edition which boxes all seven of them together, but availability is somewhat limited.

Marvellous matches him with the formidable team of Holland and Williams, who play up the music's dramatic qualities to the hilt: a graceful tune like the 3/4 'Even Mice Dance' gets thumped open by Williams's awesome drumming. The pianist revels in the situation, though, and produces some of his most joyful playing. Yet it hardly squares with the string quartet parts, arranged by Petrucciani but more of a distraction than an integral part of such fierce playing.

***(*) Au Théâtre Des Champs-Elysées

Dreyfus FDM 36570-2 2CD Petrucciani (p solo). 11/94. The opening 'Medley Of My Favourite Songs' might be a quintessential Petrucciani performance, 40 unbroken minutes of a piano master in full flow, lightning flashes of humour illuminating an otherwise seamless sequence. Maybe he never quite recaptured the effortless excitement of the early discs, and to that extent the energy of his playing is mitigated somewhat by his sense of proportion; but there's a great deal to enjoy across these two discs: a lovely, thoughtful 'Night Sun In Blois', a finger-busting Monk medley, and a beautifully distilled 'Besame Mucho' to close on.

*** Both Worlds

Dreyfus FDM 36590-2 Petrucciani; Flavio Boltro (t); Bob Brookmeyer (vtb); Stefano Di Battista (ts, ss); Anthony Jackson (b); Steve Gadd(d). 96.

Almost a complete departure from his other work, this rather mysteriously seemed to set out to tame Petrucciani by placing him squarely in a band format, where he flourishes only intermittently as a soloist, and even then without his usual brio. He wrote all nine tunes but the arrangements are all Brookmeyer's, who brings his trademark quirks to a nevertheless very interesting line-up. The soloists are all strong enough, and there's a particularly appealing piano—soprano duet on 'Petite Louise', yet this could all use a shot of Michel letting go.

***(*) Concerts Inedits

Dreyfus FDM 36607-2 3CD Petrucciani; Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, Louis Petrucciani (b); Lenny White (d). 7/93-8/94-

****Solo Live

Dreyfus FDM 36597-2 Petrucciani (p solo). 2/97. Petrucciani's passing robbed jazz of one of its most charismatic spirits, especially in performance, and these sets are reminders of how much an audience would respond to him. The three-disc set offers him in solo, duo and trio settings: it's somewhat patchy, since the solo disc has a rather hard and unattractive piano sound, and the trio set (with Louis Petrucciani and White, cut at a Japanese concert) doesn't entirely benefit from the drummer's energies. But the duo record with NHOP is a delight, two virtuosos at the top of their game without overpowering the listeners with how much they can play.

Solo Live is a marvellous Frankfurt concert recording. Michel warms up with a sequence of shorter pieces before stretching out on 'Trilogy In Blois' and 'Caravan'. He was always rethinking material: the 'Besame Mucho' here is entirely different from the treatment on Concerts Inedits. The final 'She Did It Again/Take The "A" Train' medley is showstopping, but each note seems to matter as part of the flow. This great communicator will be sorely missed.”

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