Michel Petrucciani was a crowd-pleaser — restless, relentless and above all romantic in his approach, which combined the harmonic emphasis of Bill Evans with spry phrasing that tumbled into bop, blues, and even Latin-tinged rhythms. Released shortly after the death of Petrucciani at age 36 from a lung infection (he also suffered from a bone disease that made him fragile and stunted his growth), Solo Live turns out to be an ideal primer on his music and one of his most accomplished and exciting records.
We get the Petrucciani who loved shifting moods to the point of pastiche, twirling through eight songs each in less than four and a half minutes, frequently with seamless segues. This opening octet includes such striking originals as the ebullient, unabashedly romantic "Looking Up," the comforting ballad "Home" and a fey and fetching "Little Piece In C For U" that hop scotches with agility and eventually settles in to a boogie-woogie groove. Petrucciani's take on Duke Ellington's "Caravan" reveals his audacious accessibility: He begins with an elongated, thunderous preamble and drops into dynamic restraint when initiating the familiar melody, and continues the pattern by alternating a welter of phrases with tinkling, single-note snippets. On the closer, the little maestro sandwiches his own "She Did It," around another Ellington classic, "Take the A Train." The energy and ingenuity that ensues makes for a fitting coda from a pianist who died way too soon.