The musical contribution of the French Caribbean has been somewhat neglected, though in recent years UK compilations have begun to rectify the gaping hole, as well as the participation of French Caribbean pianists such as Mario Canonge as actor/musician in a more recent Claire Denis’ film, ’35 Shots of Rum’, which focused on the Caribbean community in the banlieue of Paris. One musical group that enjoyed major success on the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique and among the diaspora in mainland France was Malavoi. In the UK the group’s popularity was largely restricted to specialist world roots venues such as Bongo Go in Birmingham and the Mambo Inn in London, and it was indeed at the former that this writer became familiar with the group’s intoxicating mix of pan-Caribbean rhythms, such as the biguine, and a jazzy undercurrent. It was in fact he pianist in Malavoi, José Privat, who served as an inspiration to his son, Grégory Privat, born in Martinique in 1984, and took up classical piano for some ten years.
Upon moving with family to south-West France and the city of Toulouse, Privat Jr. studied for a degree in engineering, but gave up ambitions in this field in order to devote his time to jazz piano. It was to be another shift, this time to Paris that catapulted his interest in jazz and enabled him to gain notoriety on the Parisian jazz scene. Now aged twenty-seven, Grégory Privat, gave up an office job and focused entirely on music. This has involved sideman duties with trumpeter Stéphane Belmondo and jazz-rock musician Guillaume Perret as well as becoming a member of the Libretto Ensemble under the leadership of Lars Danielsson for the enterprising ACT German label. However, as a leader Privat came into his own when forming Trio Ka which fused jazz and Caribbean melodies. During this period in Paris he met with Cuban musician Orlando ‘Maraca’ Valle and Sonny Troupé, the latter of whom would become an integral member of Privat’s own formation. A first album, ‘Ki Koté’, was released in 2011 and this followed up on Privat achieving semi-finalist status at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival piano competition in 2008 and again at the 2010 Martial Solal international piano competition. More inventively conceived, a second album, Tales of Cyparis’, came out in 2013, which was inspired by the 1902 tragedy of Mount Pelée that erupted on the island of Martinique, destroying in the process the city of Saint-Pierre that was formerly the capital. In January of 2015 Privat had formed a duo with friend and percussionist Sonny Troupé, a practitioner of ‘Gwo ka’, the traditional music of Guadeloupe, and this resulted in a third album, ‘Luminescence’, on the jazz family label.
This brings us neatly to the present and a debut album under Privat’s own name for ACT. It has been almost twenty years since the passing of Maestro Michel Petrucciani and only Jacky Terrasson in the mid-1990s has really established any kind of international reputation among French jazz pianists, Which is why Grégory Privat’s new album is such a treat. The influence of Petrucciani is evident as is that of Brad Mehldau, and possibly Keith Jarrett, but Privat has quietly developed his own voice and there is a maturity in his compositions and performance that singles him out as an exceptional talent who has the potential to make the big time. A delightful mid-tempo number, ‘Le parfum’, displays sensitivity becoming of an older musician, while there is a lyricism to the storytelling on ‘Riddim’ that has definite shades of Petrucciani to it. The solid bass playing of Linley Marthe is showcased on the introspective intro to, ‘Zig Zagriyen’, while there is a solemn, quasi-religious tone to, ‘Filao’, which is imbued with a warm and soulful phrasing. For a complete change of pace, the frantic ‘Ladja’ reveals the trio in full flow and a feature of this number is the unusual time signature. In general, the all original compositions impress and there is no filler on this seventy minute plus set. Now into his thirty-second year, Grégory Privat is surely destined for greater things. The trio will be performing at select venues during autumn, but will be resident at the Duc des Lombards venue in Paris on 28 and 29 November. Well worth a visit if in the French capital.