It’s clear that French alto saxophonist Pierrick Pédron was inspired by Charlie Parker. After all, his first album, released in 2001 is entitled Cherokee. Now some eight albums later, we find Pédron in the company of some of New York’s finest, namely pianist Sullivan Fortner, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Marcus Gilmore for the fully acoustic Fifty/Fifty – New York Sessions. The number “50” plays into a couple of contexts here. The leader just turned 50 years old and the notion of the 50/50 split indeed means that another album will be forthcoming in the Fall – the electric Fifty/Fifty Paris Sessions. The double album concept is a product of Pédron’s collaboration with producer Daniel Yvinec, who has worked with eminent artists such as Suzanne Vega, Salif Keita, Andy Bey, Maceo Parker, Yael Naim, Paul Motian and Mark Turner. The album was recorded and engineered by the renowned James Farber, with the musicians playing live in one room in the studio.
Since his debut, Pédron has absorbed the styles of several prominent altoists. This writer hears some Kenny Garrett, but closer listening also reveals nods to Cannonball Adderley, Ornette Coleman, and even Maceo Parker. In the past two decades Pédron has “covered the waterfront” to use a jazz term, playing live or in the studio, acoustic or electric with Mulgrew Miller, Phil Woods, Roy Hargrove or Ambrose Akinmusire. Yet, at the root of it all, as one listens to these nine selections is that the seminal bebop of Bird infuses much of the material. Pédron is a highly lyrical player, equally adept with complex rhythm patterns as he is with emotive ballads. Being surrounded by some of best talent in jazz helps. Fortner is an in-demand young pianist, perhaps most famously associated with vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant and a frequent sideman in many sessions. Bassist Larry Grenadier is a pillar of the Brad Mehldau trio and vital quarter member of the fusion group Hudson. Drummer Marcus Gilmore, of Fortner’s generation, is perpetuating the magnificent work of his grandfather, Roy Haynes.
The album begins with “Bullet T,” a frenetic piece that courses that fuses bebop and a bit of the Ornette Coleman style as Fortner delivers both syncopated and flowing lines and Gilmore skitters on his kit. Immediately, you’ll be struck by Pédron’s clean tone, fluency, and use of seemingly every note on his horn in flurries. The piece goes through several changes, slowed near the end only to be revived when the leader bursts forth with yet another patented cluster of notes. “Be Ready” is a bit more angular, leaving room for crisp statements from Fortner and Grenadier as Pédron soars freely. “Sakura,” a ballad, begins with spare notes from Fortner and hushed support from his rhythm mates before the leader enters, playing gorgeously. Ballads are generally acknowledged as Fortner’s (pardon the term) forte’ so this naturally works beautifully, with a lyrical bass solo and some especially emotive notes reached by the leader as the piece builds and ends on a sublime sustained note.
The brisk “Boom” is straight-ahead bebop while “Trevise” returns to the lush ballad mode that reveals some of Pédron’s most poignant playing on the album, so focused on every nuance in each note as Fortner’s piano shimmers and the trio creates a lush backdrop. “Unknown,” as the title implies, is a meandering, searching, unpredictable piece with each member improvising as Gilmore holds it together with his steady trap work. “Origami” is an edgy piece that features some inventive piano from Fortner as the leader expresses his story rather eloquently. “Mr. Takagi” is another oddly tempoed, hard bop-free jazz excursion while the closer “Mizue,” appropriately again represents the group’s exquisite balladry, ending on a gorgeous high note.
Pédron and his bandmates exhibit mastery in this impressive session demonstrating an astute use of space, a command of complex rhythm patterns, and clean, emotive, imaginative delivery from the leader.