Deep in a Dream
was the jazz event of 2006 in France; alto saxophonist Pierrick Pedron and the album were showered with prizes and dominated journalists' "best-of lists. The explanation that everyone gives for their high marks is surprisingly guileless: the story they tell is one of an emerging figure of the French scene flying to New York City, alto under his arm, to lead a date featuring heavyweights Lewis Nash and (especially) Mulgrew Miller, and triumphing on jazz's home turf. This reverent attitude toward the New York scene is disarming and sincere; though French jazz has no need (nor little tendency) to apologize for itself, there is no denying that conquering the Big Apple is a mighty achievement.
The vibe of this record is that of a late-1950s not-too-hard bop session, right down to the set list ("A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square ? Really!) Miller is unerringly brilliant, playing the middle range of the keyboard somewhere amidst Elmo Hope and Horace Silver (just the most ineffable touch of the rhythm and blues). One can be forgiven for thinking of the interplay of Red Garland and Art Pepper on the latter's Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section
(Contemporary, 1957), so gorgeous is Miller's lush and authoritative accompaniment.
The arrangements by Laurent Courthaliac and Rick Margitza are unassuming but efficient: many tunes begin with slow, percussion-less intros, leading to propulsive mid-tempo vehicles for the soloists and driven in no small part by Pedron's compatriot Thomas Bramerie on the bass. Some of the tunes end on a dime, suddenly, with one musician playing: Pedron on "Change Partners, Miller on "Lover, creating a sense of freshness, excitement and energy.
On the continuum of tones achieved by players of the alto instrument, Pedron occupies a spot near the end marked "bright and warm, fairly distant from the "worrying or "astringent pole. At faster tempos, he has a fleet-footed ability to inject boppish ideas, but his clear preference lies with the slower passages which he lovingly embellishes.
The French critics are right: Deep in a Dream
is a little jewel crafted by an out-of-towner right in jazz's very epicenter. If anything, Pedron plays the role of a 1950s American jazzman so successfully, that one longs, perhaps unfairly, for a glimmer of the bright-eyed French player's musical heritage: the scion of a musical family from Brittany, schooled in Breton traditional waltzes, Pedron would become, like many of his cohort, a Pink Floyd enthusiast, but there is scant evidence of these biographical details in the music on this record. (Do I detect some of the Breton elements in "Waltz for a King, Pedron's 3/4 time tribute to English alto saxophonist Peter King
? Probably not.) No matter; an immensely satisfying achievement.
Pierrick Pedron: alto saxophone; Mulgrew Miller: piano; Thomas Bramerie: double bass; Lewis Nash: drums.