Michel Petrucciani Non-Stop Travels/Trio Live in Stuttgart Dreyfus Records
Michel Petrucciani celebrated life. It was a short one (he died when he was 36 of a pulmonary infection), but he lived it to the brim. Jazz was his passion, which he shared through his numerous recordings and concerts. He also had a sense of humor that could be zany and irreverent.
Petrucciani is the focus of the documentary Non-Stop Travels with Michel Petrucciani. Filmed in Paris, New York and California and directed by Roger Willemsen, it is to Willemsen's credit that he tells Petrucciani's story with an even hand. He gives music its due place, but he also opens the door to the personal side of Petrucciani.
Petrucciani is down to earth and congenial. He speaks candidly of his early life and of the time he came to the USA, where he met Charles Lloyd. As Lloyd describes it later in an emotional moment, listening to Petrucciani play was just beautiful. We see Petrucciani delivering a story, "She Did It Again," which had nothing to do with a woman but a lot to do with Lloyd's dog. He tells it with a straight face, which adds to the delight. The DVD reveals more of the exuberant spirit that was Petrucciani, his wit and demeanour being a joy to witness.
For all his technique and the tremendous skills that enabled him to give his music brilliance and complexity, he was still modest. His recording session with Stephane Grappelli is revelatory. Grappelli discusses with the pianist the music that they are going to play for their album Flamingo (Dreyfus Jazz) and in doing so weaves a spell on Petrucciani, who is awestruck by Grappelli's knowledge.
Petrucciani's music provides the soundtrack for the documentary. He plays "Caravan" at an outdoor concert, the setting perfect, the choice of music astute. Petrucciani plays the final tune, "Looking Up," on top of a skyscraper. As he plays, the camera takes in aerial shots of the New York skyline. Petrucciani is at ease with himself, and in a touching moment says, " I hate to say goodbye." It's a fitting finale.
The DVD also has the concert Petrucciani recorded at the Kultur Und Kongresszentrum Liederhall in Stuttgart, Germany on February 8, 1998. With Steve Gadd on bass and Anthony Jackson on electric bass, it's a fine showcase even if Petrucciani rises way above the rhythm section most of the way.
Petrucciani builds his edifice with a judicious choice of songs. The opening "Little Peace in C For U" has lilting moments, casting a light in its progression and, in doing so, bringing in an air of expectancy. He ends with the hymnal "Cantabile" and its gospel harmony. Along the way he deconstructs and fragments "So What," reining in the tempo, opening space and then making it whole again. The performance is good enough for him to let a smile flit across his face.
The documentary of Petrucciani's travels and the concert are each riveting in their own right. Together they make for an indispensable historic document.
Tracks: Little Peace in C For You; Brazilian Like; Chloe Meets Gershwin; September Second; So What; Guadeloupe; Take the "A" Train; Cantabile.
Personnel: Michel Petrucciani: piano; Anthony Jackson: bass; Steve Gadd: drums.