Dreyfus Records: Crossing Continents with Music
Steve Grossman Quartet with Michel Petrucciani
Saxophonist Steve Grossman and pianist Michel Petrucciani both recorded for the Dreyfus label at the very beginning of its history and on Steve Grossman Quartet with Michel Petrucciani, the two giants met up for what can only be termed a magical session. The album became the last recording on which Petrucciani participated, and he is found in sublime form, caressing the tangents with romantic sensitivity. The program is mostly made up of ballads, with such evergreens as "Body and Soul," "Ebb Tide" and "In a Sentimental Mood" receiving stellar readings. Grossman, known for his pyrotechnics and funkiness, digs deep into the material, managing to sound vulnerable and touching without being sentimental. A case in point is "Song for My Mother," an original written by the saxophonist, which cuts to the heart of the matter, using a smoky tone and no fancy embellishments. Petrucciani also contributes to the material with his "Parisian Welcome," an elegant, bluesy ballad. The tempo is picked up on "You Go to My Head" and Sonny Rollins' "Why Don't I?" Both tunes are swinging with a relaxed feeling, but they are only there to highlight what this session is really about: the exploration of pure emotion in slow tempo. The album is a worthy testament to Petrucciani and a proof that Grossman is as good a ballad player as there is.
In & Out
Another strong encounter between two masters of their instruments, incidentally also a French pianist and an American saxophonist, is the duo meeting between Martial Solal and Johnny Griffin on In & Out. While essentially a ballad session in its nature, the album is nevertheless decidedly more modernistic than the musings of Petrucciani and Grossman. Unlike the preponderance of standards found on Steve Grossman Quartet with Michel Petrucciani, In & Out sticks mostly to the original creations of the musicians involved. Solal contributes the title track, "L'Oreille Est Hardie" and "Neutralisme," compositions that all feature the pianist's rollicking licks, hard rhythms and unusual harmonies, coupled with a strange, detached sense of pianistic sensitivity. Griffin, on the other hand, is straighter in his writing, showcasing a swinging touch for balladry on "Come with Me," "Hey Now" and "When You're In My Arms."
Both Griffin and Solal can be seen as modernistic iconoclasts; Griffin with the sound and fury of his fast-paced horn, and Solal with his knotty sense of harmony and rhythm. Nevertheless, they are thoroughly steeped in the standards tradition and the balance between melodic tradition and experimental modernism is perfectly spelled out in the tracks that open and close the session: Nacio Herb Brown's "You've Stepped Out of a Dream" and Thelonious Monk's modern classic "Well, You Needn't." Somewhere between the Great Songbook and the avant-garde lyricism of Monk lies the singular music of this inspired duo.