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Play Petrucciani: A Special Tribute for a Special Musician

Play Petrucciani: A Special Tribute for a Special Musician

Courtesy Ana Zaragoza


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The shows were a worthy honor to Petrucciani. You can tell when everything is going exactly right, and this was one of those special times.
—Flavio Boltro
Watching a good band at a small club is often one of the most enjoyable ways to experience jazz. Proper ambiance can conjure lasting sounds and images, as the relatively intimate space makes for optimal acoustics and definitive visual close-ups. That's what it was like for those fortunate or discerning enough to attend the first editions of an exceptional "Play Petrucciani" program by Spanish pianist Chano Dominguez and Italian trumpeter Flavio Boltro, with a powerful rhythmic assist from Martin Leiton on bass and Michael Olivera on drums, in the comfortable setting of Barcelona's Milano Jazz Club.

A pair of nearly identical, back-to-back concerts honored the late, renowned French pianist Michel Petrucciani, who died at age 36 in 1999, just before a new millennium in which his global status as a truly unique performing composer would continue to grow. This was the very first time Dominguez and Boltro had ever performed together and it was indeed a charm as the headliners, both well-established bandleaders in their own right, brought an abundance of energy and expertise that turned audiences into actively vocal participants. Separate, nearly identical shows ran for approximately an hour each (with a bit of additional improvisation in the second set), and included powerful versions of six gems from Petrucciani's well-known repertoire, played with a passion that was evident on each musician's face as they beamed in response to each other's skill.

Vibrant crowds filled the underground locale to full capacity for both shows, while the musicians smiled and greeted arrivals as if it were a popular class reunion. The band connected with the audience and took flight immediately, positioned just a few feet apart on the club's compact stage area. Both the players and the fans displayed jovial concentration during every song, as many in the audience smiled and kept time with personal hand or foot movements. Due to the stage lights and subsequently darkened interior, the band probably couldn't see most people in the floor area, but the musicians could definitely hear the cheers of approval after each song as they nodded in acknowledgment.

The band started with two songs from Both Worlds (Disques Dreyfus / BMG, 1997). Boltro soared impressively on the opening "Training," reaching back to the same heights he achieved on the original recording while Dominguez added polyrhythmic patterns on sparkling keys that continued to simmer in the sensuous shuffle of "Brazilian Like." That follow-up seemed like an intoxicating mist that pleasantly permeated the room as many people swayed along with the theme.

An inspired duet on Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" highlighted the masterful interaction between Dominguez and Boltro, and there was a meaningful pause at the conclusion as attendees caught their collective breath. Next came "My Beebop Tune" from Petrucciani's 1980s Blue Note period, in fine piano trio form that gave Boltro time to grab a beer and admire his colleagues. The final two songs brought everyone to the fore, in a full blast, accelerating take on "I Mean You" by Thelonious Monk and Coleman Hawkins, and Petrucciani's wonderfully hard driving "Manhattan," in which it sounded like Dominguez saved his best for last to close at full speed.

During his career, Petrucciani played with some of the most distinguished musicians of the day including Boltro, Dave Holland and Tony Williams. Tonight's quartet may not be as collectively well known, but they all have plenty of noteworthy accomplishments on their resumes and they each certainly maintained a tradition of jazz excellence. Dominguez and Boltro looked ecstatic after the performances as they interacted with the dozens of well-wishers who gathered around the stage to offer congratulations.

"I'm so happy about these shows and I hope we can take Petrucciani's music to all the jazz corners in the world," smiled Dominguez after the second set. "I would especially like to remark about the importance of having Flavio be part of this project. His being a member of Petrucciani's band during the last seven years of his career and life adds a very special element."

"We didn't feel a need to discuss or modify anything, we just knew we were excited to be playing," said Dominguez regarding the quartet's immediate effectiveness. "I've known Michael and Martin for years working in separate bands and even though this was the first time all three of us would be playing together I knew they can play anything. My surprise was how good everything was when Flavio joined us, the chemistry was great. He's a musician who plays with freedom, open to anything and I am so happy we were able to recreate Petrucciani's music together. We were warm and full of energy. I hope that if Petrucciani could have been here to hear us he would have had so much fun that he wanted to come to the stage to join in."

First class was the ongoing operational mode all evening. Patrons were escorted to comfortably padded red seats by ushering servers wearing bright vests and ties that matched the crimson curtain behind the stage and padded seating. With a jazz tag recently added to the venue's name, the club offers a solid schedule for jazz aficionados in a vibrant area of central Barcelona near the iconic Las Ramblas thoroughfare and Catalonia Square, sharing a vibe with places like those in New York's Times Square area or along the Seine in Paris. Plays Petrucciani would be a worthwhile addition to any global jazz club.

The project is a fine feather in the curating cap of the emerging, Spanish-based Esound Music and Arts agency that began operations in 2016 with a focus on jazz and world music. In just a few years the organization has expanded its roster and territory, so the Petrucciani event could make a significant impact. Director Massimo Di Stefano greeted arrivals before each set with a personal cheer that engaged the audience before the music started. Afterward, many in the departing crowd could be heard talking about how much they enjoyed the show. The band presented the project again two weeks later at well-received concerts in Italy, and the group will hopefully continue. The tribute seems like a natural engagement for similar jazz-themed clubs, especially in Boltro's adopted French homeland.

"The shows were a worthy honor to Petrucciani," said Boltro. "The band played really well together from the very beginning and the audience was great. You can tell when everything is going exactly right, and this was one of those special times."

"It was an honor to revive Petrucciani's music and be able to include certain details that he liked and preferred," reflected Di Stefano. "The presence of Boltro didn't only let the musicians connect to Petrucciani musically, but also on a personal level, sharing his love for life, with the awareness of knowing that his life was very short (Petrucciani died from a lifelong genetic disease). He lived everything intensely."

That enduring spirit came through loud and clear tonight.

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