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Taken with Terrasson

Dan Bilawsky By

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While reading reviews about the 2010 Winter Jazzfest in New York City, I experienced a sensory overload, despite the fact that I hadn't even been in attendance. The list of musicians that performed at the event seemed too good to be true, as did many of the reviews, so I vowed to check it out for myself when the event rolled around again in January of 2011.

When the festival dates were announced, I bought my tickets early, mapped out my club-hopping plan for each night, coordinated all of the logistics surrounding the weekend, and eagerly waited for January 7, 2011 to arrive. Unfortunately, all did not go as planned. By the time that day arrived, I was suffering from a cold and the worst cough I'd had since I was a child, and an ill-timed snow storm—seemingly localized over my exact travel route from Eastern Long Island into New York City—arrived at the same time as rush hour, making travel by car a very poor idea. Therefore, instead of soaking in the sounds of Anat Cohen's group, absorbing JD Allen's performance under the baton of Butch Morris, and reveling in the musical wonders brought forth by Aaron Goldberg's trio, I was asleep on my couch by 8:30.

When I awoke the next morning, I wasn't feeling much better, but sleep and cough medicine helped. I knew I'd be able to make it to some of the earlier performances in the evening, so my wife and I made our way to Manhattan, picked up our tickets and hurried over to Zinc Bar to catch pianist Jacky Terrasson with his trio.

Terrasson and his trio mates—bassist Ben Williams and drummer Jamire Williams—covered more ground during their all-too-short, forty-minute set than many of his contemporaries could cover in four hours, and those in attendance witnessed something truly special. Terrasson literally tugged away at the piano strings, blended Michael Jackson's "Beat It" and an abstracted take on "Body And Soul" with the more melodious strain of "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," and touched on churchy, gospel-infused melodies with the help of Williams' bass. While that would have been enough to satiate my appetite, Terrasson also delivered his signature arrangement of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," which proved to be the high point of the set.

Hearing this piece couldn't help but take me back to my first encounter with Terrasson's music. While the pianist gained instant jazz celebrity status for his win at the Thelonious Monk Piano Competition in 1993—and for his role as the pianist in Betty Carter's group—I was only 16 at the time, and I didn't encounter his revelatory music until I heard Smile (Blue Note, 2003), a full decade later. Since that initial encounter, I've had the opportunity to look back and explore his early recordings, with bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Leon Parker; soak in the sounds of his collaborative projects with the likes of vocalist Cassandra Wilson and vibraphonist Stefon Harris; delight in his solo work on Mirror (Blue Note, 2007); and absorb the wonders of his latest group on Push (Blue Note, 2010). As I heard each one of Terrasson's albums, my appreciation for his artistry only deepened, but I still hold a special place for Smile, and my fond memories of discovering this album came flooding back at the Zinc bar on that cold Saturday evening. With all of this in mind, I dedicate this month's Old, New Borrowed and Blue to the music of Jacky Terrasson.


While Terrasson calls New York his home these days, Paris will always seem to hold a special place in his heart. Terrasson dedicated an entire album—the underappreciated A Paris... (Blue Note, 2000)—to the "City of Lights," but his first nod to La Ville-Lumière came with the first notes of his debut album.

Jacky Terrasson (Blue Note, 1995) announced the pianist's arrival as a first-rate recording artist, and he ushered in the proceedings with Cole Porter's "I Love Paris." Drummer Leon Parker was heard first, with his steady groove, and Terrasson makes his arrival known with one dissonant chord. He goes on to mix exploratory lines with melodious strains, but things take an immediate turn to the romantic when Parker briefly drops out. Complete consonance wins out and, when the drummer returns, Terrasson launches into a solo that mixes earthy lines with exotic statements and stabbing chords, before immediately shifting again.


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