It is often remarked that guitarists have a “signature style”, a sound so ingrained with the artist that it is easily recognisable. You rarely hear that term in reference to pianists, but in the case of Michel Petrucciani, it’s perfectly applicable. Despite his verve and versatility in tackling all kinds of music, just a few notes will tell you that it could only be Michel tinkling the keys. In an all-too-short career, Michel performed thousands of times, including a string of dates at the world-famous Montreux Jazz festival. Pieced together from four different shows, The Montreux Years finds Michel in his natural habitat and holding capacity crowds spellbound with his dextrous playing.
If there was one word to sum up Michel’s playing, then it would surely be ‘playful’, and he certainly has a lot of fun on opener ‘35 Seconds Of Music And More’. Some critics dismissed Michel as being too accessible, yet there was a duality to his music which many overlooked. His sound attacks your head and heart simultaneously, this is music made for mind and spirit, and is typical of the binary approach that will echo throughout. Likewise, the polyrhythms employed on ‘Estate’ finds Michel playing at odds with Andy McKee’s bass, yet they’re inextricably linked and the path they wend leads the listener a merry dance, and although ‘Estate’ has been covered hundreds of times, Michel’s evocative playing makes this the ultimate version. On a sublime ‘Autumn Leaves’ it feels as if Michel is playing our very emotions; a descending bass line creates a feeling of sadness, which is heightened by keys which fall like raindrops and then radiate in concentric circles. We are placed at an emotional nadir, before Michel makes a surprise change of pace and moulds the original melody like plasticine, using unorthodox chords and throwing everything off beat. With a sweep of his fingers, he lifts the listener up to heady heights, and therein lies Michel’s magic.
What made Michel the rounded performer was his use of light and shade. Listening to him perform was akin to walking through a hall of mirrors as counterpoints were fractured in multiple directions. As with many great artists, he understood that sometimes it’s not what you play but what you don’t, and he leaves plenty of space, not only for the listener to infer meaning but also for other instruments to come to the fore (such as Miloslav Vitouš’s bass wandering on ‘Autumn Leaves’). He doesn’t feel the need to scrawl his sound on every surface, and this makes his playing all the more special when it does appear. This makes him multi-faceted and ensures that the pictures he paints with sound are richly textured and full of depth. When Petrucciani takes on Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’, he retains the shape of the original, yet he reframes it in a new context, bringing its inherent swing to the fore with a free form nature that you feel could veer off at any moment on an unexpected tangent. Humour was a big part of Michel’s genetic make-up, and he has some fun with the crowd on ‘Take The ‘A’ Train’, while his dramatic side appears on closer ‘Rachid’, a beautiful piece of music that will resonate long after the disc has stopped spinning.
Despite being pieced together from several different concerts, and containing many different band configurations, The Montreux Years flows very smoothly and that’s because Michel is the thread stitching the album together. A versatile musician who left us far too soon, The Montreux Years stands testament to the man and his music.
Vinyl Track List:
- 35 Seconds Of Music And More *
- Estate **
- Little Piece In C For U *
- Autumn Leaves ***
- My Funny Valentine ***
- Miles Davis Licks **
- Summertime ****
- Take The ‘A’ Train ****
- So What ***
- You Are My Waltz ****
- Rachid **
* Michel Petrucciani Sextet (Live At Auditorium Stravinski 1998)
** Michel Petrucciani Quartet (Live At Casion Montreux 1990)
***Michel Petrucciani & Miroslav Vitouš (Live At Miles Davis Hall 1996)
**** Michel Petrucciani (Live At New Q’s 1993)
CD Track List:
As vinyl, tracks 1 through 11