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While I don’t like to bring personal experiences into CD reviews, I may be forgiven for this one exception. Maybe not. When I listen to Conversation, I am reminded of watching Bucky and John Pizzarelli perform in a duo performance last fall. As they played a number of tunes that Bucky and his uncles taught John as a boy, it seemed that John’s, not acceptance, but celebration of his father’s spirit provided the greatest kind of public tribute possible. As Bucky would lead, John would follow, and eventually the conversation flowed without words, and in fact in a manner that surpassed words. When Bucky dropped back into a relaxed swing, John evoked his teenage fascination with the Beatles and rock. The night before, when John’s trio played, he took time out of his performance to give the family history of Joe Mooney’s influence on Bucky and of the brother-and-sister-and-father-and-uncles jam sessions. Music was a means for family communication and closeness.
Obviously, this isn’t a review about the Pizzarellis’ duo. However, the same family connection appears to be present on Conversation, wherein father Tony and son Michel join in a performance that achieves more than the playing of notes or the accompaniment of one another or the entertainment of an audience. It puts on public display, and in public audio format, an understanding between the father who encouraged his son to play piano in spite of his serious physical handicapsand who released his son to the world as the teenager joined Charles Lloyd half a world away. And the son reciprocates with love and appreciation during this concert in Lyon, France, in 1992. Even though the son is gone and the father survives, the recording exists as a documentation of their convergence of styles and similarities of spirit.
With the lightness and vigor of his rhythm guitar, Tony not only follows Michel, but also on “Summertime” he creates a casual sophistication the belies the technical mastery that they both exhibit. Somewhat similar in feel to Nat Cole’s trio, the fact that the Petruccianis lack a bass doesn’t affect the movement of the performance. Michel slyly plays the bass lines himself as he improvises and alternates the chord changes with the left. This bi-dextral ability is most evident on “Billie’s Bounce,” on which father and son play the rippling bop lines in unison as Michel walks his left hand in reference to the double-bass function. Even as he solos, his single-noted left-hand accents never cease.
Even as they respectfully comp behind the other and trade choruses on tunes like “My Funny Valentine” or “Someday My Prince Will Come” (a song perfectly suited to the sound of this duo), they allow the audience to hear each musician singly. Tony solos on “Nuages,” recalling the French lineage of guitar interpretatins of Django Reinhardt’s tune. By the same token, Michel interprets Miles Davis’ “Nardis” on his own, wrapping twists and turns into the musical portrait that he paints, the final half tone resolution an insistent motive within the tune.
In honor of the occasion of the father-and-son tour, Tony wrote “Michel’s Blues,” the structure of the tune serving as the basis for the familial interchange. Its complexity isn’t as important as the fact that it allows for them to have fun with it, one lick inspiring the other to pick it up and embellish it.
A number of Michel Petrucciani CD’s have been released after his passing, including Michel Petrucciani: Concerts Inédits, with his brother Louis. Perhaps Conversation, though, is the most historically significant, relaxed and personally meaningful.
Track Listing: Summertime, Sometime Ago, All The Things You Are, My Funny Valentine, Nuages, Nardis, Michel
Personnel: Michel Petrucciani, piano; Tony Petrucciani, guitar
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.