René Urtreger

Tentatives
Minimum Music MIN 005

Pianist of the old school, at 72 René Urtreger is France’s pre-eminent first- generation Bop pianist.

Best known for his work with American expatriates like tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon and drummer Kenny Clarke, the Parisian pianist gained his greatest fame when he toured Europe and recorded with Miles Davis in 1956-1957. Since then he’s stayed true to the style, playing and recording in a variety of situations and formations –including his famous trio with drummer Daniel Humair and bassist Pierre Michelot – and at times also composing film music.

Somewhat a departure, Tentatives is a solo piano run-through of a collection of standards as hoary as “Laura” and “My Funny Valentine” using the sort of delicate phrasing that’s pre-Bop in its conception. Although he states that he’s never played this way before and during the course of the CD manages to resuscitate a few of the war horses, Urtreger could have done with the impetus of a rhythm section.

That’s because Bop pianism is essentially reductionist, whereas these standards call for ornamentation, variations and note flurries. To fully come in contact with the melodies as a soloist, Urtreger would have to refer back to Swing Era styling, the showiness from which his mentors like Bud Powell and John Lewis worked so hard to separate themselves.

Perhaps the tune which gains the most from the pianist’s touch is “Dear Old Stockholm”. By virtue of being a jazz, rather than a show-biz, standard – introduced into the cannon by Stan Getz – his interpretation is looser and with fewer extended arpeggios and note clusters he brings to the others. Taken allegro, it becomes a recital in echoing vamps and repetitive cross patterning.

Adding a bluesy tinge to many of the standards also helps to promote Urtreger’s individuality, as does the fact that he appends a bit of Monk’s “Played Twice” in the middle of “I’ll Remember April”. Although this, along with some mocking baroque-style voicing, contrasts nicely with the rest of the interpretation – dancing melody on top and thick-toned pedal point on bottom – the repeated theme variations slow down the performance.

As for the rest of the disc, taking the tunes either much more quickly – spooling great hunks of ornate familiar lines on “What is This Thing Called Love?” – or in the case of as brief run through of “Cherokee” – half-speed until the Powell-like cadences kick in – exposes the CD’s shaky structure.

Urtreger may also surprise with his rendition of “My Funny Valentine”, but he can’t stop being a prototypical Bopper. Although he carves out verse variations with recital seriousness before gently chiming the overly familiar chorus, this isn’t a new strategy – and wasn’t in 1956.

Long-time Urtreger partisans will probably be interested in his interpretation of standards here. Most would prefer his appearance in the Bop context he helped pioneer in France.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Autumn in New York 2. What is This Thing Called Love? 3. Laura 4. I’ll Remember April 5. Someday My Prince Will Come 6. Dear Old Stockholm 7. My Funny Valentine 8. Cherokee 9. I Didn’t Know What Time It Was 10. Il Neige Sur Pernes

Personnel: René Urtreger (piano)