Album reviews

Michel Petrucciani – ‘Solo in Denmark’ (rec. 1990)

Michel Petrucciani – Solo in Denmark

(Storyville Records 1018495. Album review by Mark McKergow)

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French piano genius Michel Petrucciani (1962–1999) lives again in this solo performance from 1990. The results are a bohemian cocktail of standards and originals presented with verve, wit and amazing technique that showcases Petrucciani’s talent in a joyous and uplifting way.

It seems astonishing that Michel Petrucciani has been dead almost a quarter of a century. Born with the genetic disorder osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease), he was extremely short and used special equipment to reach the piano pedals. His hands, however, were normal size, and he used them to dazzling effect over 20 years of performing, composing, inventing and pushing himself with new ideas and colleagues.

Even in his early 20s he was keeping up at the highest levels of jazz; I saw him aged 22 at the 1984 Vienne Jazz Festival in an all-star band with Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Larry Coryell, Buster Williams and Billy Hart – now THAT was a line-up, particularly as they were merely the support act for Dizzy Gillespie!  

Petrucciani left a generous legacy of recordings from 1980 to 1998, and inevitably some posthumous releases have found the light of day. One highly successful double album was Solo, recorded in Germany in 1997. Solo in Denmark can be seen as another successful addition, recorded in 1990 in Silkeborg Church, Denmark at the Riverboat Jazz Festival.

We have an hour of sublime piano jazz, mostly standards with a couple of originals, all woven through with nods to tradition, swing, blues, outrageous quotes and pin-point accuracy which still leaves the listener gasping, smiling and nodding in appreciation.

P’tit Louis opens the concert, Petrucciani’s composition lilting romantically along with swaying left-hand figures in a classical manner before increasingly florid and hints of stride begin to appear. Petrucciani’s first big influence was Bill Evans, and there are tastes throughout of Evans’ mastery, counterpoints and ability to find ways to surprise even on the most staid of themes. Ellington’s In A Sentimental Mood keeps up the feeling with effortless tempo shifts and stylistic leaps, all threaded together into a coherent whole.

She Did It Again, another Petrucciani original, sees a lightning fast boogie-ish left hand opening, showing that he truly had a ‘left hand like god’ in the words of Eubie Blake. This gives an opportunity for jumping off into clips from Miles Davis’ Jean-Pierre and Sonny Rollins’ St Thomas among others. Round Midnight is taken at a spritely pace, more ‘10 in the evening’ than midnight, with plenty of momentum and tempo-shifting.

Bruno Martino’s song Estate (summer), perhaps best known in the version by Joao Gilberto, gives an opportunity to visit the fringes of latin jazz, and Blue Monk, in other hands the most hackneyed of jam-session standards, is an opportunity for Petrucciani to show his mastery of Monk-ish elbows-out stylings, nods to Little Rootie Tootie, boogie-woogie and more, and overall mastery of the keyboard.  The final medley starts with Autumn Leaves – and proceeds happily on from there…I’m convinced I heard a bit of Leslie Bricusse’s Talk To The Animals from Dr Dolittle in there somewhere… 

This is an absolutely marvellous hour of music, an hour to be with Michel Petrucciani given free rein on some of his favourite numbers, well recorded in a sympathetic acoustic.

Solo in Denmark is released on CD today, 2 September 2022.

France Musique’s “Open Jazz”, which has “September Second” as its theme tune, devotes today’s edition to this release.

Purchase Solo in Denmark

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