Pierrick Pédron is not well known outside France but his cred is firm on that country’s jazz scene. The title here refers to his 50th birthday and also to the fact that New York Sessions is the first (acoustic) installment of a two-part project. Pédron appears with an A-list American rhythm section: pianist Sullivan Fortner, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Marcus Gilmore. A second release, subtitled Paris Sessions, is planned for the fall of 2021. It will be electric, with French sidemen.
From the first bars of the opening track, “Bullet T,” it is apparent that Pédron is the real deal on alto saxophone. His lightning reflexes put him in the company of fast guns like Phil Woods and Jackie McLean. Sometimes, as on “Be Ready,” his intervals and his lilting effusions make you think of Cannonball Adderley. But his tone is harder. Pédron speaks latter-day bop with his own Continental accent, rich in microtones. He is not predictable. He veers off notes you thought were stable. Even at full tilt he makes hard turns into ideas you never saw coming.
There are six burners and three intriguing ballads. The rapt romanticism of ballads like “Sakura” is continuously undermined by Pédron’s sudden fierce flurries.
The band had never played together before, and much of the appeal of Fifty-Fifty is its sense of in-the-moment impulse. Fortner is a stimulating partner. His lush, flowing lyricism contrasts with Pédron, but when he spills off the edges of songs and breaks down forms, he complements Pédron’s tendencies.
Two quibbles: Why do so many jazz musicians record originals exclusively, even when they are better players than composers? (It would have been interesting to hear Pédron and Fortner redesign one standard.) And why do so many jazz albums come with useless liner notes?