REVIEW: Baptiste Trotignon solo piano at the Festival Jazz à Saint-Germain-des-Prés Paris

Baptiste Trotignon
Photo credit: Fabrice Neddam / Photoned


Baptiste Trotignon solo
(Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés, 12 May 2017. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Pianist Baptiste Trotignon is a major presence in French jazz. From 2003 until about 2011, he was hoovering up every one of the most prestigious prizes in France. In the period since then, and as he moves into his early forties, recognition has been coming his way to a greater extent for his work as a classical composer. His focus may have moved on, but his jazz playing, which mostly came towards the end of a long, hugely energetic set lasting not much short of two hours, was completely masterful.

The best part came when Trotignon showed his own particular, poetic way with sinuous ballads like You Go To My Head (mercifully freed of its rather clunky lyric) and Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered. What he unfailingly enjoys is to add 'out' notes to the melodic line; and since he makes very extensive use of the sustaining pedal, the tonal clashes that he thrives on are always savoured to the full. These moments – including a heartfelt Beatles medley: Here, There and Everywhere, the ubiquitous Blackbird and With a Little Help from my Friends (with a little vocal help from the audience) which was also hugely enjoyable – were, for me at least, the highlights of this long and varied set.

Random tongue-in-cheek French literary diversion coming up… but perhaps it is only a French pianist who could have thought of developing such a close, intense relationship between his bare foot and the sustaining pedal of a Steinway. Sensuality/feet are embedded (whoops) in French culture: for example in Maupassant's Bel-Ami, the straying foot of Madame de Marelle – with its clearly signalled intentions -–are a main vector for the plot and for Duroy's ascent in Parisian society.

Trotignon frequently gives the music a sense of momentum by building the complexity and the velocity of the inner parts, and he also has a whole repertoire of favourite pianistic devices (Ivan Hewett described them well in the 2009 review linked to, below). To these has been added the interspersing into his compositions of the occasional wordless vocal line, either in unison with or harmonised with the piano. The first time it came, it was a surprise. It somehow seemed as if Trotignon had found a unique and personal way to control the involuntary Keith Jarrett urge to sing while playing. But it is more than that. What occurs to me is that Trotignon clearly is thinking well beyond the scale of the piano. In common with Belgian pianist Jef de Neve – who, similarly has been increasingly his work as a composer – it is as if the form of the solo recital has become unduly limiting. Perhaps to prove the point, Trotignon went looking for prepared piano sounds on an exploratory tour of the interior of the piano, and playing with a roll of paper muffling one octave.


Exploring the innards of the piano with a shaker...

Maybe the urge to think bigger, to reach out for sources of variety is understandable. This was a major concert in front of an enthusiastic audience which was probably about 1,200-strong. The whole evening definitely had the big occasion feel about it. The Festival Jazz à Saint-Germain-des-Prés Paris is an extremely well-sponsored and well-supported annual festival right in the heart of the Left Bank.

This packed concert was a reminder of the health, scale and depth of the French jazz festival scene. Trotignon's well-deserved high reputation in France, and the opportunities he has in his home country to build a career, make it completely understandable that he has not played piano in a concert in the UK since March 2013. That is a shame, because he is one of the most interesting and persuasive jazz pianists in Europe.

...and acknowledging the applause at the
end of a 100+ -minute set

LINKS: Review of Baptiste Trotignon in duo with Mark Turner at Kings Place in 2010
Review by Ivan Hewett from 2009
The Festival Jazz à Saint-Germain-des-Prés Paris continues until May 22nd

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