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Recorded in 1997 before a large auditorium audience in Frankfurt, Germany, Michel Petrucciani’s solo album offers a good look at his expressive style. The pianist’s respect for a melody and unique left-hand accents make his performance both interesting and enjoyable. Born in France with a bone disease, Petrucciani was a child prodigy who learned rapidly and performed in a family jazz band with his father and brothers. Influenced by Bill Evans, Duke Ellington and others, the pianist used a harmonic approach that appeals to most listeners. His professional debut came at age 13 when he appeared with Clark Terry in France. Petrucciani first recorded when he was 16 and moved to the U.S. shortly afterwards. A professional association with saxophonist Charles Lloyd led to three years of live performances and several albums. Sadly, Petrucciani died in January of a pulmonary infection at the age of 36.
Balancing ballads with faster romps, Petrucciani’s Solo Live album presents a program that flows from one piece to the next for nearly an hour. His strong right hand and syncopated staccato left hand combine to produce music that seems to have evolved from the tango and its forebears. "Caravan" changes from powerful and dramatic to smooth and modal; more changes follow. Petrucciani’s variety and underlying two-beat left-hand rhythm make his performance swing; even boogie-woogie finds its way into the presentation. The longest of Petrucciani’s originals, "Trilogy in Blois," offers a stroll in the park, as the pianist’s fluid style expresses a melodic flow with spontaneous left hand changes in the rhythm. Nothing can make up for the loss of a life; particularly one so talented. Fortunately, the artist left behind about two dozen albums so that we can remember.