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Jacky Terrasson: Smile

Live in a club or a concert hall, Jacky Terrasson no doubt delivers a pleasant evening. He is a pianist of surpassing facility. And who wouldn’t enjoy forgetting the cares of the day and leaning back and becoming absorbed in how Terrasson sets up complex technical challenges for himself and solves them with flawless panache? In an undertaking like the title track, for example, he recalibrates Charlie Chaplin’s song into improbable 5/4 time and makes it a puzzle that fits together perfectly, with no leftover pieces.

But the record album is a different art form from live performance (even when it is a recording of a live performance). The permanence of the format raises the bar of expectations. On record, Terrasson’s cleverness feels insufficient. While his reconfigurations of standards are unique, they most often miss a song’s meaning and essence, imposing inappropriate syncopations or external intellectual decoration. Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” with Eric Harland’s frenetic fixed drum line and out-of-time fragments from Remi Vignolo on electric bass, is a strikingly unusual version, but it’s notably lacking in loveliness. Its coldness is surely unintentional, given that it is dedicated to Terrasson’s newborn daughter.

Terrasson is most disappointing when he takes on material with a rich history of interpretation in the recorded jazz canon. His “Nardis” is a curiously pallid take on this Miles Davis song. It never lifts off and sings like when Bill Evans played it. In the hands of an artist like Chet Baker, “My Funny Valentine” was an occasion for the most profound existential self-encounters and revelations of inner emotional truth. For Terrasson, it is just any little line to start him off and throw him into another fleet, polished display of his undeniable skill.

Originally Published