I decided I’d take a leap into the unknown last night. I knew virtually nothing about French pianists/entertainers Fabrice Eulry (above) and Pierre-Yves Plat. But for once, I thought, I’d just put my trust in Ross Dines’ habitually excellent programming at the Pizza Express in Dean Street, and see for myself what damage these two musicians could inflict on the club’s magnificent Steinway. No pre-conceptions. Go with the flow. Just let it happen.
Becoming a pianist is a lonely craft, but these two men are communicators, the music becomes a means for them to to give an audience a good time. Which is a responsibility that some jazz musicians, I was reminded, can perhaps place rather too low down in their list of priorities…..
Eulry is a savvy performer. As he plays, he also performs the role of the lonely clown, in the historic Grock/Marcel Marceau tradition. A photo-gallery from Germany (from which the photo above is taken) gives a good idea of Eulry in action: his facial expressions and gestures form a continuous commentary on the music. It’s powerful stuff. It draws an audience right in. At one point he kept a strong pulse going as he did a complete circumnavigation of the piano, using it, the chairs and tables, his head, wine buckets, glasses and bottles as percussion instruments, ending up back, victoriously, at the piano on his “tabouret.” At another time, Ike and Tina Turner’s Proud Mary/Rolling on a River got the full circus ringmaster treatment: powerful, driving rhythm, audience heartily clapping the backbeat, Eulry standing imperiously over the Steinway, nodding in time, resplendent in bright red suit…..The audience lapped it up. One would have to be a curmudgeon and a misanthropist not to smile, just a little.
Plat, much younger, describes himself on his website as “pianiste-fantaisiste.” In duo, Plat plays the role of the apprentice, the fall-guy. and Eulry, conversely, takes on the role of the master with slightly sinister glee.
Plat’s turn, his shtick, is to take a tune – say a Chopin prelude, or a theme from Beethoven’s Pathetique sonata- and to morph it by infusing it with ragtime rhythms, to re-shape it. He’s a very skillful pianist and a fine musician, but I had the feeling he does’t yet get this to work consistently. Maybe I do have pre-conceptions here: Dudley Moore sets the bar very high for this kind of trick. The exception last night was Mozart’s Turkish March . Both pianists enthusiastically gave Mozart’s tune a complete going-over and had lots of fun with it, both separately and together.
The club was three quarters full last night. Every member of the audience enjoyed this show thoroughly. The pianists worked their socks off both playing the piano and playing to the crowd. There was a queue for CDs in the interval. And the cheers and standing ovation which greeted them at the end raised the roof.
I had a good time. Jazz purists and classical snobs would have absolutely hated it.