In an example of the passing of the generations (although in this instance, the passing happened all too soon), French pianist Franck Avitabile is carrying on after the encouragement of Michel Petrucciani, Avitabile’s mentor and producer of his first CD on Dreyfus.
Avitabile’s first project involved references to Bud Powell and homage to jazz piano masters. However, that insecurity exhibited on many premier releases needn’t have been necessary. All the while, Avitabile was writing his own music and developing his own craft, even though he must not have been confident enough to present it on In Tradition.
He is now.
Three years have elapsed, and it seems that a generation has passed. At the age of 30, Avitabile steps forth with some of the top European rhythm players to put forth his own persona. It’s not surprising that he has moved beyond his Powell acknowledgement. What is
surprising is that Avitabile, while being influenced by Petrucciani, possesses a more flowing and less percussive style than him. The sometimes furious pace of the solos, no doubt, derive from some of Petrucciani’s guidance. But the totality of the talent is distinct.
Starting with his own tune, “Miss Laurence,” Avitabile doesn’t intend to wow the audience with pianistic fireworks or overwhelming technique. Indeed, the introduction of the tune involves Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen’s light melodic bass lines with Avitabile’s behind-the-scenes upper-keyboard blossoming before the tune opens up into a comfortable waltz. Avitabile saves his against-expectations work for the next track, Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way,” which the young pianist introduces in a minor vamp and then plays in a contrapuntal style, the left hand running through harmonic lines complementing the melody.
Another personalized interpretation of a standard is Avitabile’s reharmonization of “Cherokee,” the substitutions sometimes hinting at “My One And Only Love” because, yes, he takes the tune at a slow pace that stretches the melodic phrasing over several measures. Rather than the traditional workout song for high-energy jazzmen, in Avitabile’s hands “Cherokee” assumes the proportions and feel of a ballad, particularly when Ørsted Pedersen joins in. Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma” defies expectations too as Avitabile combines the identifiable elements of the song with a bubbling rhythmic feel and then a staggering of the rhythm.
The remainder of the CD consists of Avitabile’s engaging compositions, except for bassist Louis Petrucciani’s “Blues From The Stars.” And a blues it is, without sentimentality or alteration of form. Rather, Petrucciani and Avitabile play unison bass lines before concluding the CD with blues swing over several choruses to signify that Louis’ brother, Michel, certainly was perceptive as he groomed new talent, in the same manner that Clark Terry did when he brought Michel to the world’s attention.
Franck Avitabile already is an accomplished pianist, displaying command of his instrument, and more importantly, the ability to entertain an audience without ostentatiousness or imitation.