I was a devoted fan of Michel Petrucciani, so it is surprising that it took Christian Jacob’s new album to reveal the permanence of Petrucciani’s work as a composer. Petrucciani recorded prolifically in his short life, in a variety of settings, and his own tunes always seemed like movements in the album-length suites he wove together from diverse found and invented materials. Christian Jacob is such a fluent, polished pianist—and his long-term working trio with bassist Trey Henry and drummer Ray Brinker is so tight—that he is able to reveal the luminous melodic essences inside Petrucciani’s complex irregular forms.
Once you have heard Jacob’s elegantly detailed and finished renderings of Petrucciani lines like “Looking Up” and “Even Mice Dance” and “13th” and “Memories of Paris,” it becomes remarkable that these songs have remained largely unexplored by jazz players. Jacob presents them as such meticulous and complete designs, and such rich sources for improvisation, that he newly claims their place in jazz literature.
When Petrucciani died at 36 in 1999, the French critic Francis Marmande wrote, “If the death of a musicians touches us in a special way, it is because they take their secrets with them.” With Contradictions, Christian Jacob has performed the valuable service of revealing that Michel Petrucciani left some of his secrets behind.