Days of Wine and Roses: The Owl Years, 1981-1985
The content of Michel Petrucciani's playing deepened in the last few of his 36 years, but even in his early career his advanced technical ability at the piano seldom overwhelmed his musicality and taste. That is clear on this two-CD overview of Petrucciani's half-dozen albums for the Owl label, the first made when he was 19 and had been a recording artist for two years. One disc consists mostly of the pianist's compositions, the other of standards. On more than half of the pieces he plays solo. There are two tracks with bassist Jean-Francois Jenny-Clark and drummer Aldo Romano, two with bassist Ron McClure. Petrucciani also plays a glorious duet with alto saxophonist Lee Konitz.
In exquisite sonic and emotional balance, Petrucciani and Konitz plumb the major-minor pleasures of "I Hear a Rhapsody." At the beginning of the second chorus Konitz, perhaps not according to plan, continues to solo as Petrucciani begins. For seven bars, they intertwine in perfect counterpoint. Unintended or not, it is a moment of beauty that deserved to be extended. The trio pieces and those with McClure, particularly "Cold Blues," center Petrucciani. He plays more in the mainstream than when he is following the unrestrained blooming of his imagination. McClure inspires him to intense drive and to single-note lines out of Bud Powell's book.
The collection's biggest rewards come when Petrucciani is unaccompanied. On "Eugenia," he often sounds like Bill Evans overdubbed on two pianos. On "Prelude to a Kiss," there are touches of Thelonious Monk, including minor seconds and crippled cadences. "'Round About Midnight" has only hints of Monk's eccentricities but wide insights into Petrucciani's creativity. During the final chorus of "Midnight," he plays canonlike inventions and variations that could be scored for full orchestra. He concludes the ethereal waltz "It's What I am Doing When I Miss You" in a vamp on simple chords over which he plays, among other things, a flawless Teddy Wilson arpeggio. Those are a few highlights. There are many others.
This set is a durable source of enjoyment and, for those unfamiliar with his work, a fine introduction to Petrucciani.