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Non-Stop Travels / Live In Concert by Michel Petrucciani

Too often, jazz musicians leave us too soon. Sadly, the list is unfortunately, relatively long. It includes Michel Petrucciani, who passed from a pulmonary infection at the age of 36 in 1999 after distinguishing himself as a jazz pianist who developed his own distinctive style. As all of his devoted fans know, Petrucciani endured a lifelong affliction of osteogenensis imperfecta, which left his bones fragile and stunted his growth. At times, he had to be carried when his health was a concern. Even so, Petrucciani charmed audiences from the time he was 16, when he first performed with Clark Terry, until the time he had recorded successively excellent albums of his own group. Despite his diminutive stature, Petrucciani played with a swinging percussive style, made visual by the DVD as he attacks the keys, such as his repeated machine-gunning of a note on "Take the ‘A’ Train." Not only can one hear, but also can see the force that he injects into his performances. By inspiring bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Steve Gadd to increase the intensity of the trio’s performance, Petrucciani wordlessly becomes a testament to the strength of the spirit and the success resulting from his determination to succeed despite physical limitations. Though loath to admit it, many listeners, charmed by his music, found Petrucciani to be a visual experience as well when he shaped beauty from seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Fortunately, Dreyfus Jazz has released, in DVD format, two Petrucciani shows: a documentary that appeared on PBS and his trio’s concert in Germany. Though they differ in content, atmosphere and intent, both shows reveals two sides of Petrucciani’s personality, musical and verbal.

First the musical aspect. For those who have heard Petrucciani only on CD, The Michel Petrucciani Trio in Concert is a marvel. It shows now only his steadfast connection to his 1998 audience at Kultur und Kongresszentrum Liederhalle in Stuttgart, but also his continuous rapport with his sidemen. Through sheer force of will and a hard percussive attack, even during ballads, Petrucciani commands the direction and the tone of the performances. Most of the eight pieces played in concert are Petrucciani compositions, demonstrating his less frequently recognized skills as a composer. Moreover, Petrucciani’s interests were protean, ranging from the samba references of "Brazilian Like," personalized and refashioned, to the humorous combination of "Chloé Meets Gershwin" to the hard-charging vamp that the pianist adds to "Take the ‘A’ Train." The concert event was professionally taped, with due attention to the subtleties of sound and the visual excitement of a Petrucciani performance captured a year before he passed.

Then there’s the verbal side of Petrucciani’s personality reveals in Roger Willemsen’s documentary that taped him in California, New York and Paris. Accompanied by his own music are he travels and reminiscences, Petrucciani expresses love of life, rejoicing in the natural environment of California’s coastal area, and he records his recollections and thoughts about music and physical limitations, both with a smile or a laugh. Willemsen particularly shows genuine interest in Petrucciani’s thoughts, thereby eliciting from him such disclosures as falling and breaking his nose as a teenager in his father’s garage. Frankness ensues when Petrucciani talks about death, expressing his fear for it but not for the pain for Petrucciani reveals that he is in pain most of the time.

One of the fascinating decisions of Petrucciani’s life was showing up as a teenager at Charles Lloyd’s house and eventually convincing Lloyd to tour with him, Lloyd thereby abandoning his premature retirement. Petrucciani provides his account of the encounter and the reasoning behind it. Additional segments include the pianist’s conversations with actress Charlotte Rampling, a rehearsal with Stephane Grappelli before the release of the Dreyfus CD Flamingo, his conversation on a California mountaintop with Lloyd, where the saxophonist plays alone. All the while, Petrucciani’s words are backed by a soundtrack of his music.

The Dreyfus DVD provides a wealth of information and music concerning Petrucciani, reflective and exuberant. Though he passed too soon, on the other hand Michel Petrucciani contributed an abundance of music within twenty years of his professional career that remains eternal.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Michel Petrucciani
  • CD Title: Non-Stop Travels / Live In Concert
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2008
  • Record Label: Dreyfus Records
  • Tracks: Non Stop Travels with Michel Petrucciani: Bimini, Brazilian Suite, You Are My Waltz, Waltz New, She Did It Again, Take the A Train, Caravan, Piango Pay the Man, My Bebop Tune, Charlie Brown, Flamingo, Little Peace in C for U, Lullaby, Looking Up Trio in Concert: Little Peace in C for You, Brazilian Like, Chloé Meets Gershwin, September Second, So What, Guadeloupe, Take the “A” Train, Cantabile
  • Musicians: Michel Petrucciani (piano), Anthony Jackson (bass), Steve Gadd (drums). Appearances by: Roy Haynes, Charles Lloyd, Stephane Grappelli, Charlotte Rampling.
  • Rating: Five Stars
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