170

Pierre Hurel Trio at the Regattabar, April 8, 2004

By

Sign in to view read count
Pianist and composer Pierre Hurel has performed and taught in the Boston area since graduating in 1988 from Berklee College, where he’d arrived four years earlier from his native France. Last week, I heard him play with his trio to a full house at the Regattabar in Cambridge. Hurel’s compositions and playing show the influence of European classical music, particularly of the romantic and impressionistic eras. When in an interview last year I asked him about the composers who inspired his work, he cited Shostakovich, Poulenc, and Ravel. In his playing, Hurel projects a natural grace, easygoing on the surface but precise and focused at the core. His bassist John Funkhouser and drummer Mike Connors are also polished and sensitive players, and the trio meshes well.


For the evening’s show, Hurel had selected standards and his own compositions in about equal parts. He opened with an abstract, freely played introduction to the first selection, which emerged as “Lover Man.” The head of the up-tempo second piece started with a simple melody resembling “Three Blind Mice” – and then the bridge, played straight, revealed it as “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” Hurel’s melodic and harmonic rework of the A part transformed the rueful but determined theme of the original into something more playful, a little Mozartean.


Hurel guided the trio smoothly through tempo and groove changes, and except in the few arrangements with little or no improvisation, granted a lot of solo space to his band mates. Hurel’s original “Happy” had a West Indies groove, and in his snappy solo Connors drummed with hands as well as sticks. An untitled Hurel composition (he described it as “something about time”) also had a Caribbean beat, as well as a melodic hook and impressionistic chord voicings reminiscent of Mingus’s “Nostalgia in Times Square.” In his solos Hurel tends to restraint, sometimes going into melodic explorations in the style of Keith Jarrett but not for too long, letting the end of his solo meld into the lithe improvisation of bassist Funkhouser.


Hurel kept the audience engaged during his announcements, mixing humorous background stories with more serious points about the music. Introducing “Auld Lang Syne,” he pointedly said he finds the unusual selection “touching,” effectively preparing the audience for the hymn-like, unimprovised rendition of the elegiac Robert Burns song that, somewhat paradoxically, is usually linked with New Year’s revelry. Introducing “The Crush,” the title tune of his latest CD, Hurel described the composition’s origin in an episode in the life of a “fictional character.” Happy that said person has lately gotten over the crush, Hurel explained, he now plays the piece in a more “mellow” manner. I found the yearning ballad with traces of Chopin and Satie as enchanting as the performance I recalled from last fall. Then, however, Hurel had inserted a tinkling, off-key treble fill between phrases of its main theme, and this time he dispensed with that disquieting element after the first couple of phrases. The trio also interpreted another variety of yearning with “When You Wish Upon a Star.” For Gershwin appreciators, the straightforward, hushed rendition of “Embraceable You” was a treat (and a contrast to Hurel’s take on “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”).



Hurel recounted that he’d long wanted to meet Michel Petrucciani, another French jazz pianist transplanted to the U.S., but was never able to catch up with him. Hurel has channeled his feeling of kinship with the recently deceased Petrucciani into a special blues. The tune wasn’t traditionally bluesy and its harmonies were chromatic, but its anchor to the tonic and the musicians’ intensity conveyed a blues spirit. At the end of their long show, the Pierre Hurel Trio revealed a previously hidden side by playing a modern jazz standard, “Solar,” as the last tune on the program, and as an encore, they played “Take the A Train.”



As well as performing every few months at the Regattabar, Pierre Hurel occasionally plays at the Knickerbocker Bar and Grill in New York (Greenwich Village), and his other appearances include European jazz festivals. Over the years Hurel has released several CDs, of which The Crush and two earlier discs are now available on the Web.

Photo Credit
Mes Photos De Jazz


Shop

More Articles

Read Shirlee Temper At The Empress Theatre Live Reviews Shirlee Temper At The Empress Theatre
by Walter Atkins
Published: April 30, 2017
Read SFJAZZ Collective at the Music Box Supper Club Live Reviews SFJAZZ Collective at the Music Box Supper Club
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: April 28, 2017
Read Mark Hagan's Jazz Salon At The Old 76 House Live Reviews Mark Hagan's Jazz Salon At The Old 76 House
by David A. Orthmann
Published: April 27, 2017
Read Anat Cohen at Davidson College Live Reviews Anat Cohen at Davidson College
by Perry Tannenbaum
Published: April 27, 2017
Read Kneebody at Johnny Brenda's Live Reviews Kneebody at Johnny Brenda's
by Mike Jacobs
Published: April 25, 2017
Read "2016 Hope College Jazz Organ Summit" Live Reviews 2016 Hope College Jazz Organ Summit
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: September 28, 2016
Read "Belgrade Jazz Festival 2016" Live Reviews Belgrade Jazz Festival 2016
by Thomas Conrad
Published: November 11, 2016
Read "Soule Indomitable at Nectar's" Live Reviews Soule Indomitable at Nectar's
by Doug Collette
Published: April 2, 2017
Read "Tom Griesgraber and Bert Lams at Kennett Flash" Live Reviews Tom Griesgraber and Bert Lams at Kennett Flash
by Geno Thackara
Published: September 1, 2016
Read "Steve Reich @ 80: Music for 18 Musicians" Live Reviews Steve Reich @ 80: Music for 18 Musicians
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: March 29, 2017

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM RECORDS | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!