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French pianist Michel Petrucciani (1962-1999) was born a dwarf. Reaching a height of only three feet, he suffered a life-shortening disease that caused brittle bones, countless fractures and constant pain during his 36 years. On this live recording, captured July 7, 1988, in Karlsruhe, Germany, he plays with the abandon of someone living on borrowed time in a trio with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Roy Haynes.
There’s no discernible generation gap between Petrucciani, then only in his mid-20s, and middle-aged jazz vets Peacock and Haynes. Petrucciani's composition “13th” opens the disc as a duet with Peacock before Haynes makes his mark on the highly improvised piece via punctuation, a theme that gets repeated throughout. It’s one of five originals culled from the pianist’s 1988 LP Michel Plays Petrucciani, most with this rhythm section. The breakneck “One for Us” features Haynes dropping bombs between Petrucciani phrases and during a middle solo, as the always-innovative drummer alternates between hi-hat cymbals, drum hardware and even stick-on-stick playing. The playful “Mr. K.J.” is a nod to Keith Jarrett, whose trio employed Peacock from 1983 to 2014; the buoyant “She Did It Again” showcases Petrucciani’s incredible two-handed independence; and the gorgeous ballad “La Champagne” displays another primary pianistic influence, Bill Evans.
Standout standards include a warp-speed “There Will Never Be Another You” and a similarly rousing “Giant Steps,” with churning, bop-influenced work by the rhythm section and the diminutive pianist standing far taller than his stature. The trio gets a little too loose on “My Funny Valentine,” which concludes the performance, yet their enthusiasm unquestionably triumphs. The only real question regarding One Night in Karlsruhe is how a live recording this good could’ve stayed unearthed for 20 years after Petrucciani’s death. — Bill Meredith