Steve Grossman Quartet: Steve Grossman with Michel Petrucciani
You have to give it this: The album's title is self-descriptive. This CD does, in fact, feature Steve Grossman with Michel Petrucciani. Grossman plays sax, Petrucciani plays piano. The rest of the quartet is made up of Andy McKee and Joe Farnsworth on bass and drums, respectively. This is jazz in classic quartet mode, the kind of songs Frank Sinatra sang and Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington played.
Michel Petrucciani plays quietly, like the piano player at the edge of your hearing in a barroom. He is relaxed yet tight on the rhythm. But Steve Grossman's sax just doesn't go up to the mountain for me, it's like the cigarette smoke that makes you unable to enjoy the music. The improvisations don't do justice to the songs he is playing, and don't replace them with anything better. Or more original-Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" keeps threatening to turn into "Someone to Watch Over Me!" It brings to mind all the square put-downs of jazz, like "If you get near a song, play it!"
Grossman's credentials are certainly unassailable. He was playing with Miles Davis when he was 18. Petrucciani's credits are, if anything, even more impressive. He played with a long list of players prior to his death last year, including but hardly limited to Steve Gadd, Dizzy Gillespie, and David Sanborn.
The rhythm section does fine work, if they don't exactly fly. They've got their act together, but they never quite take it on the road.
The sax sounds strained and unattractive, the piano is warm and rich. Unfortunately, the one prevents you from fully enjoying the other. They sound like friendly strangers, not hostile to each other by any means but not finishing each other's sentences either, as though the differences in first languages -- Grossman is from New York, Petrucciani is from France -- had extended to their instruments.