Renaud Patigny | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Renaud Patigny

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Belgian pianist Renaud Patigny is well-known in Europe as an indefatigable advocate for the boogie-woogie tradition--last summer he organized Brosella Boogie Woogie, ostensibly Belgium's first festival "devoted to boogie and blues piano." All but one of the tracks on his current disc, Tribute to the Giants (AUR), are note-perfect re-creations of recordings made by masters like Big Maceo, Meade Lux Lewis, and Pete Johnson, mostly in the period between 1927 and '47; Patigny says it took him years to get every nuance and dynamic exactly right, but his performances hardly sound labored--the music pulsates with the joy of discovery, as if he were the first person ever to play these songs. Though boogie-woogie was castigated in its day as "primitive," Patigny's articulate attack (not to mention the clarity of his recordings relative to the originals) makes plain how artful it really was: boogie pianists improvised right-hand parts that worked like entire horn charts, providing not just a coherent melody to complement the steady, rolling left hand but also well-placed chords to prod it along with cross rhythms. On barn burners like Big Maceo's "Chicago Breakdown" and Lewis's "Honky Tonk Train Blues," those tossed-off upper-register figures frolic and frisk over the boogie bass line like whitecaps on a roiling sea. Patigny himself shines brightest on more meditative numbers: his rendition of Jay McShann's autumnal "Yardbird Waltz" is gentle and sentimental without sacrificing a firm sense of direction, and perfectly captures McShann's indelible combination of melancholy and optimism. The album's lone original, "Titine Blues," is similarly mellow, almost a ballad, and Patigny imbues it with the same wisdom, strength, and tenderness. You'd hardly guess he's only 42--not just because he plays a style of music that had its heyday seven decades ago, but because he does it with the depth and maturity of a gray-haired veteran. Tuesday, December 4, 7:30 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.

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