drew you to record this project?
That's easy. Anything that involves Ray and Christian
I will be drawn to. As my career proceeds and
my musical experiences vary, it becomes more and
more apparent that I can create and express myself
most freely with these two musicians. Also, the
opportunity to explore some relatively untouched
music was appealing to me.
[Q2] Your last trio CD
was centered on the music of Jule Styne, and now
Petrucciani, don't you think that recording a
CD of music most people are unfamiliar with will
make it harder for you to connect with your audience?
Yes and no. I would hope the potential owners
of this CD would be able to enjoy it for what
it is- a collection of beautiful songs performed
with the utmost care and respect. I think sometimes
as artists, we're concerned with "giving
them what they want". I'm confident that
anyone who knows the work of this trio or even
those who don't will enjoy the beauty and virtuosity
of this recording even if they don't recognize
many of the songs. Years ago, I used to tour many
colleges with a very avant-garde band. We would
do clinics and workshops on how to play "free".
It wasn't for everyone, but I was always amazed
at the number of students that would be moved
by the music. They had never heard it before,
yet they new it was good and they wanted to know
how we did it. I learned a lot from those students.
I think the music of Michel Petrucciani and the
music on this CD will have that same effect.
[Q3] I understand that
you guys had started working on Petrucciani’s
music a few years ago and then put the project
on hold until now. Since you have been able to
‘live with’ Michel’s tunes for
a couple of years, was this helpful to you when
it came time to record them?
My concept of how to treat this music changed
drastically from when we first talked about doing
this project to the actual recording. Initially
we got together to run over some of the material
and I was going to approach it how I'd normally
approach the music of any other composer. Typically,
I try to maintain a balance between what the composer
had in mind and what I might be able to add to
create a freshness or uniqueness. As we went through
the songs, it became clear that this composer
didn't need my help. Then we put it on the shelf.
In the time away from the music I didn't think
too much about it, but in the back of my mind
I knew my initial approach was the wrong one.
When we began to rehearse for the recording, I
decided to be less creative and more musical.
That is to say, perform the compositions rather
than enhance them. That approach really took the
pressure off. I was able to relax and listen to
the interaction of the trio and the music and
enjoy the ride. My mantra became " less thinking,
[Q4] What do you find that’s
different to your ears about Michel’s tunes;
what makes them interesting to play on?
Just about every aspect of Michel's composing
is unique. The structures of these songs are very
interesting to me. As a pianist who must have
been influenced by those around him, I wonder
how he came up with his ideas. There's a stream
of conscience aspect to his writing that creates
a very flowing melodic feel. Just playing these
songs, as they are, makes you sound like you know
what you're doing. Improvising over his chord
changes, however, is another matter entirely.
Here, he does nothing to help you. It's on you.
It's not that the chords are weird as much as
how they fit together. Soloing on these tunes
was, by far, the most challenging and rewarding
part of this CD for me. Challenging in that I
was required to alter my vocabulary as an improviser-
rewarding in that I felt I was able to adapt to
some new surroundings. By the way, it doesn't
sound to me like Christian had too much trouble
in this department.
[Q5] Michel played the
tunes on this recording with a variety of rhythm
sections, but he never recorded all of them with
the same bassist and drummer. Do you think that
using the same rhythm section for all these compositions
creates a unifying presence in the way his music
I think Petrucciani's music suits this trio perfectly.
But I'll go out on a limb and say that this trio,
or any trio that's been together for a decade
or more, has a distinct advantage when it comes
time to create an underlying musical atmosphere
or flavor. When you listen to Michel play, there's
no doubt you're listening to unrivaled genius.
When you listen to this CD, you'll hear a more
collective approach. The goal is that all of the
elements of this recording- the compositions,
the interpretations, and the individual performances-
will combine to create a more powerful impact
than any one individual element. This is where
Christian Jacob excels. He is as strong as any
solo voice out there and yet his playing inside
the trio is no less astounding. His restraint
as well as his ability to hear the big picture
is truly special.
[Q6] How did the arrangements
for each of the selected Michel tunes come about?
Were any changes made to the original song structures,
if so, why?
I touched on this earlier. There was some experimentation
early on as far as arranging ideas, but as we
progressed and got to know the music, they seemed
less and less effective. Most of the arranging
was limited to instrumentation(who plays what
when) and an occasional form tweak. It occurs
to me that my definition of "arrange"
might be different than others. The lead sheets
I was using had very few notes on them. I will
confess that as soon as I hear Ray play something
and hear Christian join in there is bound to be
some arranging on the fly.
[Q7] Jazz critic Stephen
Cook has noted that “… Michel Petrucciani
weaves myriad textures, rhythms and styles …
producing work that sounds both complex and seamless.”
Is this how Michel’s music sounds to you?
If I had to describe it in one sentence, that
would be a good one. I would add this. There's
a balance of complexity and simplicity that is
constant in all of his music. I would stare at
the melodies on the page and check out the 11
bar phrases and try to come up with a plan. Then
we would play the thing and it'd be like "
no problem, just play the tune". It almost
seemed like anyone could write this stuff. The
title track, "Contradictions", is a
perfect example. The simplest melody in the world
up against super advanced rhythmic and harmonic
[Q8] Was there any track
in particular that you found the most challenging?
Rachid took me on a journey of love and hate.
This was a very elusive tune for me because I
knew exactly what I wanted to do with it. Songs
you love are sometimes the hardest to record.
I think the take we have is pretty good but I
could have done 30 takes and still want one more
[Q9] Besides a greater
familiarity with Michel’s music and the
trio’s interpretation of it, what are you
hoping your listeners relate to after hearing
I hope this CD shows the average listener that
material that isn't necessarily familiar can be
equally moving. There are a lot of Michels out
there and I have no doubt there is a healthy supply
of great music that deserves some measure of recognition.
Maybe this will serve as some modest springboard
for artists to explore the less known.
[Q10] How do you get to
the almost mystical point of knowing when something
you’ve recorded is “a take?”
Is it always easy to identify one recorded track
over another as the ‘best’ or ‘master’
There are often times when one musician's best
take is another one's worst take. On a project
like this, with a group of like-minded players
like these, this is almost a non-issue. It's almost
a cliche, but each take is like a child. Each
has their strong points and weaknesses. I can
say with some confidence that I don't think one
single take we recorded was bad. But it's the
magic you're looking for, and that's the challenge.
Often times you finish a take, listen back, and
everyone agrees that that's the one. A few days
pass by and just to make sure, you listen to the
alternate takes. Sure enough, the one that's the
wrong tempo is the one with the magic. The beauty
is, we all hear music so similarly, there are
very few arguments about the final decision.