Small frame, grand talent
Kenny Mathieson looks at the rise of pianist Michel Petrucciani.
Back in 1975. trumpeter Clark Terry was looking for a local piano player to make a festival gig in Cliousat. France. He asked around. and was told that the best local player was a kid named Michel Petrucciani. Nobody remembered to mention that Petrucciani was only 13 years old. but they played the gig. and it went just ﬁne. Young Michel and the veteran trumpet man got drunk afterwards (‘my first time’), and a spectacularjazz career had begun.
Even if his talent did not mark him out. Petrucciani's physical characteristics would set him aside from the hundreds of piano players aspiring to a place on the world jazz scene. He was born suffering from the calcium-deﬁciency disease osteogenesis imperfecta. colloquially known as brittle or glass bone disease. It severely restricted his growth. and
Michel Petrucciani: playing Duke
left him with fragile bones which break easily. although they have been considerably strengthened over the years.
At three feet tall and weighing some 65 lbs, Petrucciani packs an amazing power and determination into a small frame, and it is typical of his spirit that he should have chosen, at the tender age of four, to play arguably the most difficult instrument he could have tackled. Appropriately. his first Scottish tour will feature him playing the music of the man who first sparked his interest in the piano.
‘When I was four. I saw Duke Ellington play piano on television, and I said to my father that I would like to play that instrument — I didn’t even know what it was, but maybe l thought it was something I could really attack!
He bought me a toy piano. but that didn‘t sound like Duke‘s. so he bought me a real one. and I trained as a classical pianist for nine years, until I got uncomfortable about my teacher showing me off all the time, and quit. Piano is a great instrument — you can do anything on it.‘
If Michel trained in classical music. his love of jazz was fostered even earlier. His father. Tony. was ajazz guitar player and teacher in their home town who encouraged his three sons both to listen and play. and eventually had a little family trio going.
‘1 had all these albums in the house when l was growing up — Wes Montgomery. Tal Farlow, Oscar Peterson. Thelonious Monk. Miles Davis. it was the only music I heard from the time I was a little baby. A lot of people say that a French pianist can‘t make it in the United States because we don’t have the jazz culture America has. but I had it right there at home. and I didn’t even have to look for it.’
Petrucciani made the move to America in 1981, working initially with saxophonist Charles Lloyd. then with guitarist Jim Hall, before concentrating mainly on his own projects as leader. His four albums for Blue Note have all been successful, and will shortly be joined by Promenade With Duke. His 1989 album Music saw him expand into electric keyboards and Latin grooves, but he is ajazzman at heart, and wants to be judged only on his music.
‘People always talk about my size, but it’s what you have in your head that‘s important. My philosophy has always been to have a really good time. and never let it stop me doing what I want to do.‘
Michel Petrucciani plays at the Queen 's Hall in Edinburgh on Fri 12. the C it)‘ Hall in Glasgow on Sat I 3. and the Music Hall in Aberdeen on Sun 14.
amaz- Basic, 3 instinctive
You know that way when you have a good gut feeling about a band,
sometimes even before you’ve bnrshed I
past any of their records? You’ve read a bit, dug the attitude, heard tell of their musical vision, maybe clocked a photo and you’re a bit ashamed of fonnlng preconceived opinions, but, well, you know you’ll be vindicated when they finally rain down their sonic splendour on your twitching ears. Then you hear the single and its anaemic tick isn’t fit to swat flies with. it’s like that with Sldi Bou Said (as In sldi-boo- - sigh, a Tunisian hamlet - but you knew that anyway). Except the last part. Their debut single is a wonderfully compacted, Intriguing affair that draws you in implacany but only so far before holding up a palm and saying ‘no further access, unless you’re prepared to work at this.’
It’s worth rising to its challenge. ‘Bun’ rattles, ‘Faster’ grinds ’n’ boilers, all lungs and pelvis, but best of all (and lost as well because it’s the lead track) ‘Twlllght Eyes’ spooks with its chattering entropy. It’s all in the
interplay of the voices - Claire lemon and Lee llowton ciambering over each other to shoot home deranged, almost intimidating
comted society. Says Lee, ‘We like lots of hannonles and ins and outs. That’s quite crucial to our sound.’ Most absorbing is their frlsson of mystery - not a cartoon ego fabricated from sticky-backed plastic on a wing and a prayer, and not a dogged delirium, but a sort of Polly ‘flgure it out for yourself, thlcko’
Sldl Bou Said
liarvey methodology. ‘There are some bands who are trying to do it the boys’ way,’ Lee concurs,
E ‘which is valid in its own sense - why
sermons, like they’re the bane of nice, 5
shouldn’t we? It does seem that there is some instinct, a collective philosophy, to know where each song’s coming from. i think we’re completely unique. llo, honestly.’ Proud to be peerless. (Fiona Shepherd)
Sldl Bou Said play with The
Werefrogs and Submarine at ltlng Tut’s 9
Vlah Vlah llut, Glasgow on Fri 19.
‘ defunct company. Just then
5 Gibson. Scottish editor of
This is the story of Hamish and Robin and lan. the mysterious Nightshift. and the black. black demon that was Midnight. Hamish MacKintosh is our unassuming hero. also called Fuel. He was bom and bridie-d in Forfar. moved to Dundee. and quietly assembled sheets of music full of atmosphere and effect. He joumeyed to Grangemouth and hooked up with Brian Guthrie‘s Nightshift label. releasing The Back Of This Beyond LP. it is 1988 and all is well.
‘Cocteaus central!‘ chuckles Hamish at the memory. Enter Robin. brother of Brian. one-third of said Twins, and champion of Hamish‘s work. ‘Robin’s done me a lot of favours when it should have been record companies doing it.‘ It is 1992 and all is less well. London indie Midnight sign Fuel. try to grab their publishing rights too. insist on Hamish leaving cosy Tayside to record the putative second Fuel album in nasty Twickenham. and then promptly collapse. Bummer.
‘l‘m more cynical now.‘ Hamish reckons. hardly surprisingly. After all. Midnight's receivers now hold the master tapes of that album. Five Divinin Avenue. as an asset of the
though. Robin introduced Hamish and his music to [an McCulloch. ‘Jeepers!’ exclaimed Mac. and invited Fuel to support him on last spring's UK and European tour. Five Divinin Avenue. alas. remained unreleased. Enter another Robin —
Volume CD mag, who late last year put Fuel's sweeping and grand ‘Wildﬁre' on Volume 5. Since then. the major labels have been doorstepping Hamish. clamouring for more. Hamish is happier now. ‘Not being heard is soul-destroying.‘ he says. toting up his lOO-plus songs (‘Guess who never goes out!‘ ). But don‘t expect a dash for cash and prizes from this ambient-feedback- poet. no matter how tempting the major label bait. Hamish has travelled too far and too long for that. i it is 1993 and things are I
getting better. (Craig
The List 12—25 February 1993 29