Michel Petrucciani - piano Wayne Shorter - saxophone Jim Hall - guitar
Summer jazz festivals are, for the most part, mixtures of holiday fun, big business
and art. A sort of musical bric-a-brac deftly packaged by creative offices of
tourism. Once in a while they produce a pearl. The 20th International Festival of
Montreux certainly offered fine entertainment ranging from a night of Brazilian
music and a New Orleans-style parade, to fiery blues and rock and roll shows, and
oh-so-smooth pop acts.
There was also some jazz - and much of the best of it happened on the Blue Note night.
Expectations for that evening had run high and with good reason. The program included a McCoy Tyner group featuring Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson and John Scofield; a solo set by Al DiMeola; and the debut of the Wayne Shorter Quartet. Still, few were quite prepared for the spellbinding opening set by Michel Petrucciani and Jim Hall and their guest Wayne Shorter.
They transformed the oversize basement of the casino into a club sharing an evening of music of substance and fragile beauty and making the audiences witness to a remarkable dialogue. Months later many images remain: the powerful silence of 3.500 people; Petrucciani swaying, now and then his tongue curling over his upper lip like a schoolboy hard at work - yet taking time here and there to look at Hall and raise his eyebrows in a mischievous look, Jim Hall, in jacket and tie, half-sitting in a stool center stage looking professioral and relaxed; and then Shorter, a step to Hall's left and slightly back, following the proceedings with both an intense look and a fixed half-smile.
Still, what makes for a successful performance at such large events often does not live as gracefully on record. That this set does both, and more, is a tribute to both the artits and the audience that night at Montreux.
In hindsight, the pairing of Petrucciani and Hall was not just appropriate, but, in many ways, inevitable.
At 23, Petrucciani has already established an impressive recording and performing career - an accomplishment made more remarkable by his physical handicap. He has also remained a romantic with a taste for lush voicings, high-drama soloing and bouts of introspection, while steadily refining and nurturing a rhythmic vigor and flair for melodic invertion and forceful bass lines that contribute in setting him apart.
Jim Hall is one of the most influential guitarists alive, and his subtile swing and the intelligence and elegance of his approach have been showcased in many settings including the pianoless quartets of Sony Rollins and Paul Desmond ans sessions with another brilliant, lyrical pianist - the late Bill Evans.
Hall and Petrucciani had performed a duet concert in Paris the previous December. Later that same month the guitarist joined Michel's trio for a videotaping at the Village Vanguard. So a live recording of duets with Hall must have sounded like a very good idea to Petrucciani, comparison with Evans be damned. He was right.
The presence of Shorter in such a rich and intimate an acoustic setting, further added to the intrigue and promise.
The program opens with Shorter's "Limbo", a composition recorded twice in 1967 by the Miles Davis Quintet. It's a curious choice bcause the theme zigs and zags before turning inward and seemingly dissolving, barely sketching a framework for the improvisations. Yet the solos - Shorter playing with the urgency of a man exorcising the past; Hall shaping an arch form with off-handed control; Petrucciani tiptoeing along the theme before spinning long-driving lines-serve to underline their awareness and care for form, balance and contrast.
Next in the program is a stunning duet by Petrucciani and Hall. "Careful", a 16 bar-blues was first recorded in 1959 when Jim Hall was a member of the Jimmy Giuffre Trio. Colored by an ambiguous mood - at once urgent and flippant - and charged with a brittle, nervous energy, "Careful" elicits some of their best playing of the night: eloquent, incisive and unpredictable.
"Morning Blues", a ballad written by Petrucciani, features Shorter on soprano, and his biting tone, and dry unsentimental reading is contrasted by Hall's cozy sound and nostalgic mood. Petrucciani mirrors a bit of both approaches as his solo, well constructed and lyrical, also hints at an edge of controlled passion.
The classic "In A Sentimental Mood", is given an elegant, lucid treatment by Petrucciani and Hall. There are moments of rich interplay and well-designed solos, especially by Petrucciani who allows his to unfold at its own pace for a strong effect.
"Bimini", a sunny calypso a la Sonny Rollins, written by Hall for this date, is a fitting bookend. It shows again, three distinctive personalities playing as a unit from yet another angle. Anchored by Hall's percussive strumming and Petrucciani's bouncy bass line, Shorter builds his solo around punchy, short phrases, retaining warm singing quality; Petrucciani sprinkles his playing with a sly humor, and when Hall takes his turn he seems to challenge himself to create surprise and distill substance out of frugal choices. In doing so, and succeding, Hall also summed up the entire set.
After all, greater strength is neede to suggest than to shout, to trust the other, leave just enough things unsaid while still quietly making even the ordinary special.
That's the power of these three.