Michel Petrucciani's 100 Hearts is a first, a precedent setter. It marks
his debut as a soloist on an American record label, and is the debut recording in
The George Wein Collection. This new label marks a collaboration between George Wein
and Carl Jefferson and is designed to present important new talents as well as
By now, the story of this phenomenal master of the piano may be familiar to many who have read about this concert and club appearances around the world, back home in France, and off and on for the past three years in the United States. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, I commented that "he brings to his keyboard artistry the subtlety of a Bill Evans melded with the rhythmic dynamism of a McCoy Tyner, and has created from these and other elements a style of his own." In hindsight, I feel that statement was an oversimplification, since Petrucciani is as close to a complete original as anyone I have heard in recent years.
Asked about his influences, he said: "Oh, man, Bill Evans for me is the salt of the earth. I also loved Coltrane and Bird, in fact, I think a lot of what I do is a reflection of Coltrane's inspiration."
Because of his name, it has sometimes been assumed that Petrucciani is Italian. He explains that his grandfather was a Sicilian who emigrated to France. His father settled in Orange, where Michel was born in Dec. 28, 1962. However, most of his childhood was spent in Montelimar, near Avignon, where he studied classical music for seven years.
"We had a family band in which I played drums; my father was the pianist and my brother played bass. Well, the moment came when I decided to quit classical music. I told my father, 'The people in it are too pretentious; it's really music for the bourgeoisie.' He said no way would I stop, and I saidno way would I continuey, so when my teacher came around I told her to f___ off." (Michel's English, almost nonexistent when he came to this country, is fluent and highly colloquial.)
Much has been written about Michel's height, weight and physical problem, though they have no bearing on the brilliant ideas that emerge from his mind and his unimpaired hands. He can get around with crutches, though usually Gabreal Franklin (his manager) or Michel's wife will carry him onto the piano stool.
Much of his reputation is due to his sponsorship by Charles Lloyd. Petrucciani had heard about the flutist/saxophonist through a friend who was living with Lloyd in Big Sur, Ca. Taking a chance, he flew to California and met Lloyd, who was immediately taken with the 18 year old prodigy. As Lloyd put it, "This guy is an avatar of the keyboard. It doesn't seem possible to have all that wisdom, maturity and coloring together at his age."
Lloyd, who had been in semiretirement, was inspired to form a group again, taking Michel with him to Europe with a quartet (their album, MONTREUX '82, under Llody's name, was released in 1982). Not until 1983 did Michel begin to attract wide attention among American audiences. During his visit to New York in the summer, he not only recorded for George Wein but also gave a solo performance at Carnegie Recital Hall, both events part of the New York Kool Festival. These performances established him with the East Coast critics, who know very little about what goes on in Big Sur.
The material presented on these sides is characteristically Petruccianian. He likes to mix up his repertoire with original compositions, jazz standards, and medleys in which several pieces are unpredictably interwoven (as on the opening track of Side Two).
The title THREE FORGOTTEN MAGIC WORDS stems from a dream Michel's wife had about three important words which she was advised to convey to him. "When she woke up, she couldn't remember what the words were! So this tune is dedicated to her dream."
The work moves from majestic opening chords into a steady tempo. Along the way you will find Hines-like offbeat octaves, jogging left hand accents, a slow and statement movement and a string-plucking finale. Trying to analyze the structure, Michel said: "It's 20 bars twice, with the last two bars on minor chords the first time and major the second."
Speaking of Charlie Haden's SILENCE, he oberves: "We played this together on a couple of concerts. I love the beautiful chords." The piece has the grandeur of a Chopin prelude, with wholenote chords for the first minute before evolving into a single note melody line.
The blues TURN AROUND was also learned from Haden, though it was written by Ornette Coleman. "It's hard to find really good blues line that hasn't been used too much. This has a feeling of minor and major at the same time." Note the floodtide of right hand linearity that follows the unison theme statement; the touches of blue funk with a walking-bass-style left hand; and the buoyant swing that informs the entire performance.
The calypso ST. THOMAS, of Sonny Rollins fame, is played first bitonally. The flavor for the most part is closer to 52nd Street of the bebop era than to the West Indies.
The medley that takes up much of the second side assembles several themes like beads on a string, into a never predictable, always cohesive whole. A few chords are added here and there to link one tune to the next, and at one point you may detect a fragment of B Flat blues; finally the famous introductory figure created by Dizzy Gillespie for ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE is blended with Bill Evans' VERY EARLY.
Do not be misted: A HUNDRED HEARTS is indeed played in the not too common key of D Major. "I gave it that title because it's 100 bars long, and each bar is like a little heart to me. I was thinking about Coltrane, reading a book about his life, and I guess this was inspired by this MY FAVORITE THINGS groove, even though the feeling is a little different."
Michel introduces a new element here as he whistles along part of the way in unison. At my first hearing it almost sounded like octave unison on the piano, but the intonation is just a hair off. The idea works as a novelty, but it would be regrettable if audiences came to expect it on every set. He is too great an artist to need any gimmicks.
One concluding point: if this is the level of achievement Michel Petrucciani had reached at the age of 20, it is almost frightening to contemplate the heights he may scale in the years to come. Moreover, if his album is characteristic of The George Wein Collection, this will become an essential catalogue for the library of every self-respecting music student.
original liner notes