After a short break away I needed a fix. The concert back in my native Manchester – Saint Saens Symphony 3 with the Hallē & Anna Lapwood – was brilliant. Other than that the four days were largely music free though. Hence the need to play something, anything, as soon as I got home. Michel Petrucciani’s Montreux Years album seemed a good choice; I’d only recently added it to my Qobuz library.
The music was interrupted by a knock at the door. My neighbour had taken in a delivery for me. Which turned out to be….. the double LP of the music I was streaming. Serendipity or what?!
Reviewing priorities meant it was a couple of days before I got to play it. I was keen to try Triangle’s AIO Twin active speakers with a turntable though. In went a Pro-ject Debut Carbon EVO connected to the speaker’s phono input. On went the Petrucciani album for a cursory listen to check I’d set things up correctly.
Four sides later….
The sound quality genuinely floored me. Live recordings often leave a lot to be desired, not this one. The immediacy of the sound got to the heart of the music straight away. And no way should £700 active speakers and a £500 turntable sound that good (reviews coming soon). Maybe playing Michel’s music on French speakers helped!
And what music. I’ve long been a fan of Petrucciani. His live recording of “Bimini” with Jim Hall and Wayne Shorter is a masterclass of musicians playing off each other. Knowing when to come together, when to give each other room. Egos parked, music the winner. It’s well recorded too, there’s so much intricate detail to be retrieved.
Forget the HiFi angle though. That Petrucciani could play at all is a wonder. A genetic disease that caused brittle bones and short stature meant he left us at the young age of 36. Not before building a musical legacy that has well outlived his short life though. His playing, whether reflective or upbeat, puts him on a par with the best jazz pianists of the 20th & 21st centuries.
The Montreux Years was curated by his son Alexandre Petrucciani, in collaboration with Franck Avitabile (himself a fine pianist). Taken from live recordings at Montreux between 1990 and 1998, the aim was to represent Petrucciani in all forms (solo, trio, sextet etc), with each LP side focusing on one aspect. Overall it succeeds and then some (the minor blip of a slightly too clever “Take the A Train” is forgiveable). This really is Petrucciani at his best.
The mix of standards and less familiar tracks works well, showcasing the breadth of Petrucciani’s music. He also gives his fellow players plenty of the spotlight, Miroslav Vitous in his element at times for example (the shades of Weather Report are clear to hear.) As well as Vitous there’s a whole host of supporting personnel, too many to list.
This recording is one of a series of The Montreux Years being released by BMG. Others include John McLaughlin, Nina Simone, Etta James and Marianne Faithfull to name a few (full list here, CDs also available). All are taken from the Montreux archives, overseen by the Claude Nobs Foundation (he founded the Montreux Jazz Festival). Given there are 5000 live performances in the library we may well see more appearing in the future.
This release was remastered by Tony Cousins at Metropolis Mastering in London, using MQA technology. So yes I will compare the FLAC stream on Qobuz against the MQA one on Tidal. And both of them against this vinyl version. When my new Garrard 401 plinth arrives this will also be the first record on it. Don’t sweat the technology though. Cousins has done a superb job on the remastering, getting the balance between too much and too little retouching just right.
Whether the stellar sound quality is down to his skillset, the underlying benefits of MQA (which obviously don’t apply to vinyl per se) or a combination matters not to me. That I was engrossed in the music and played both LPs from start to finish is more the point. I appreciate jazz isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, many subscribing to The Fast Show’s parody version of events. Each to their own.
If that’s you though, maybe give this one a chance though. Petrucciani is one of a kind, unique even by jazz standards. BMG and Alexandre Petrucciani have done a lovely job in bringing this selection of his music to our attention. Even the artwork is great. And at £25 for the double LP it’s reasonably priced, particularly given all the work that’s gone into it. Thoroughly recommended. That Alexandre himself liked my Instagram post has just been the icing on the cake.