Michel Petrucciani, Marcus Miller, Bireli Lagrene, Kenny Garrett, Lenny White: Dreyfus Night in Par

Lenny White
Dreyfus Night in Paris

This, to be wholly candid, is the real article, genuine thing, damnfine splendid. After years of complaints that the electric combines badly with full-blooded-and-bodied piano playing, and 20 minutes where the question really doesn’t arise, the perfect marriage happens, but of course between two people very right for each other.

These 20 minutes were far from wasted, 16-and-a-half of them comprising a duly extended performance of “Tutu” written for late period Miles Davis by Kenny Garrett, and here reminding me of some George Russell performances of “So What” (though without Russell’s transcription of a full Miles Davis trumpet solo, we have instead a nursery rhyme doodle which used to crop up on Davis performances from his later years as a visually rock act).

On “Tutu”, the jazz is of a funk flavour, with the sometime Django Reinhardt heir Bireli Lagrene in the blues guitar mode that is somewhere in the middle of his musical repertoire. What’s especially notable is Petrucciani’s contribution. He should have played forever after. The bone disease which restricted his physical size and cut short his life has left the Dreyfus company as our alternative to a medium with access to the other side — so say the notes, with reference to a considerable varied tape archive and a considered policy of producing discs sparingly from it. Any new one may be an event, just as the five-hour concert by a string of artists was an event — with this set its climax and conclusion

After an arresting opening by the others here, Petrucciani — having comprehensively taken in the music so far — integrates a major orchestrating contribution to what becomes something else. I suppose the men who’d done “Tutu” a fair number of times had no anxieties over it, and the entirely new company on this pretty much scratch session gave something of a boost.

The second title, Miller’s “The King Is Gone”, is basically straight-up jazz of a sort never to be taken for funk. The opening duet between Petrucciani’s piano and the bass clarinet Miller picks up from time to time has considerable effect. After he’s laid it down, Miller has a beautifully light string-bass way of complementing Petrucciani’s very full piano. I can believe the blurb’s story of the pianist asking for and repeatedly listening to a tape of the music, now issued by the company from a celebration of a sort with which it enhances Paris jazz festivals. The conclusion of “The King Is Gone” develops through a duet between Garrett’s alto and Miller’s bass clarinet. Rewarding for everybody.

Petrucciani’s lower, medium tempo “Looking Up” is well-named and begins with his mainstream two-handed piano, rhythmic figure in the left hand, over drums and Miller’s rude-noise-making electric bass. Garrett moves in, his sound now more on functional R&B lines, the rhythm more overt and latin. A shameless rustic quote from the old honking tenor bag (“Three Blind Mice”) says “I am having so much fun”, before he roars himself to a stop and, having heated things up over a splendid piano accompaniment, winds down to let the piano player give him even more, from a listener’s point of view. With bursts of pacier heat, the piano solo goes on just a wee bit, but so what! This is the sort of music-making some of us miss, those who were blessed to hear Buddy Tate and his contemporaries jam at jazz festivals — on different but not wholly different music — for the joy of it. Happy jazz has been a sales pitch for empty jazz, unpretentious has been a blind for cases of not trying, but both sometimes direly misused terms fit here. Petrucciani in fact digs in even more than usual everywhere, the delight of meeting a challenge is tremendous, and the starry company puts every man on his mettle.

Having heard Lagrene excel in two different directions, it’s exciting to contemplate what he’ll do this time. The pianist, having turned Cuban goes, very quiet and the guitarist comes in softly, building up and coming down again to liase with Miller and pass on the relay baton for a growling, grumping, string-slapping, never-noisy solo over piano. The percussionist’s contribution becomes solo around a figure from the tireless pianist, before the latter resumes the theme, Miller bouncing around him toward the end, guitar and alto riffing and playing runs over a consistent tinkle, Garrett honking, Lagrene sawing, Miller walking. Reluctant to stop, they finish as quietly as physically possible.

The early sets in the five-hour concert were from, among others, the Mingus Big Band and the giant Roy Haynes. Well, stars deserve decent warm-up artists! OK, that’s a joke! But what a night! Happy days!