Michel Petrucciani – ‘Solo in Denmark’ (recorded 1990) – London Jazz News
Michel Petrucciani– Alone in Denmark
(Storyville Records 1018495. Album review by Mark McKergow)
French piano genius Michel Petrucciani (1962–1999) comes alive in this solo performance from 1990. The result is a bohemian cocktail of standards and originals presented with verve, wit and stunning technique that showcases Petrucciani’s talent in a joyous and uplifting way.
It seems astonishing that Michel Petrucciani has been dead for nearly a quarter of a century. Born with genetic disease osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease), he was extremely small and used special equipment to reach the piano pedals. His hands, however, were normal sized, and he used them to dazzling effect for 20 years playing, composing, inventing and pushing himself with new ideas and colleagues.
Even in his early twenties, he maintained himself at the highest level of jazz; I saw him at 22 at the Vienna Jazz Festival in 1984 in an all-star band with Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Larry Coryell, Buster Williams and Billy Hart – now it was a line-up, especially more than they were only the first part of giddy Gillespie!
Petrucciani left a generous legacy of recordings from 1980 to 1998, and inevitably a few posthumous releases emerged. A very successful double album was Soloregistered in Germany in 1997. Alone in Denmark can be considered another successful addition, recorded in 1990 at the Church of Silkeborg, Denmark, at the Riverboat Jazz Festival.
We have an hour of sublime jazz piano, mostly standards with a few originals, all woven together with nods to tradition, swing, blues, outrageous quotes and pinpoint accuracy that always leaves the listener panting, smiling and nodding in appreciation.
Little Louis opens the concert, Petrucciani’s composition singing romantically with classically swaying left-hand figures before increasingly flowery and stride notes begin to appear. Petrucciani’s first big influence was Bill Evans, and there are tastes in mastery, counterpoint and Evans’ ability to find ways to surprise even on the most staid of themes. from Ellington In a sentimental mood maintains the feeling with effortless tempo changes and stylistic leaps, all tied into a cohesive whole.
She did it again, another Petrucciani original, sees a lightning-fast boogie-ish left-hand opening, showing that he truly had a “god-like left hand” in the words of Eubie Blake. It gives the opportunity to jump in clips of Miles Davis Jean Pierre and Sonny Rollins St. Thomas among others. Midnight Tower is taken at a lively pace, more “10 o’clock in the evening” than midnight, with a lot of momentum and change of tempo.
Bruno Martino’s song Domain (summer), perhaps better known in Joao Gilberto’s version, gives the opportunity to visit the fringes of Latin jazz, and blue monk, on the other hand the most hackneyed standard in jam sessions, is Petrucciani’s opportunity to show off his mastery of Monk-ish styles, nods to Little Rootie Tootie, boogie-woogie and more, and his overall mastery of the keyboard. The final medley begins with Autumn leaves – and happily continues from there… I’m sure I heard a bit of Leslie Bricusse talk to animals of Dr. Dolittle in there somewhere…
It’s an absolutely marvelous hour of music, an hour of being with Michel Petrucciani giving free rein to some of his favorite pieces, well recorded in sympathetic acoustics.
Alone in Denmark was released on CD today, September 2, 2022.