He looks like a young Keith Jarrett, even hums along to his piano lines a little like Jarrett, but Jacky Terrasson is defying straight comparisons to anybody. This 1993 winner of the Thelonious Monk competition can conjure the big, train-like sound of McCoy Tyner, the cerebral presence of Brad Mehldau or the spiritual elegance of Abdullah Ibrahim, but not sounding quite like any of them. Sometimes he'll show all these sides in the same song. The Berlin-born French-American is also a force as a composer and arranger, and the ten albums he made for the Blue Note label established his reputation in all of these three areas of prowess. Next Tuesday comes his eleventh, and first for the Concord label, entitled Push.
A varying collection of originals and some freshened standards, Terrasson utilizes the tried-and-true trio format to execute jazz that ranges from hard bop to Brazilian. To mix things up a bit, he brings in some cameos by such distinguished players like percussionist Cyro Baptista, guitarist Matthew Stevens and saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart. While some of the many ideas he uses in Push work better than other, none is more imaginative than his organic mash-up of Michael Jackson's Beat It" with the 1930 composition Body And Soul," made immortal by Coleman Hawkins' 1939 recording of it.
Jackson's shocking death last year has kindled a belated interest in his songs by jazz musicians, who have largely ignored his songs during his lifetime. And, to be fair, it doesn't seem as if MJ's songs would be that adaptable to a jazz setting. That said, if a musician is creative enough, they can make any song a jazz song. The Bad Plus, after all, once accomplished that feat with a Black Sabbath tune.
In the case of Terrasson, he's more than up to the task. With a heavier emphasis on Beat It" than Body And Soul," Terrasson creates a Brazilian-like counter-melody with his left hand that forms the basis for most of this hybrid song, and states the original melody itself only a few times. Supported amply by drummer Jamire Williams from Christian Scott's band and bassist Ben Williams, himself a Monk Competition winner, Terrasson goes from free-flowing chords pregnant with anticipation to full-on power piano, and tosses in some advanced rhythmic and mood variations all around. He finally gets around to quoting Body And Soul" around the three minute mark of the track, which he fashions into a workable bridge for Beat It." Thereafter he returns to the tension of the pop hit, hitting us up with a flurry of notes before winding down gracefully with some more quotes from Body And Soul."
Perhaps Jacky Terrasson intended Beat It/Body And Soul" as a tribute to the late King of Pop, but it's a real tour-de-force for this prince of piano.