Saturday, May 29, 2010

Enrico Pieranunzi: Part 2 - The Trios & Instrumental Groups

“Writing words and composing music have something intangible in common: shaping a sentence is not so far from tracing the outline of a melody. It has to have song-quality, musicality and feeling. In a melody as in a story, the choice of a word or a note, their placement or movement has enormous impact and consequences.”

- Enrico Pieranunzi

“A melody has powerful narrative potential. One of the great mysteries of music is the possibility of breathing life into a story without needing to use words. It's as if the melody had its own silent words that turn it into a song. But in order to get there you have to completely abandon yourself to it, and in this Bill Evans was clearly a master. It is no easy thing to make the piano sing the way he was able to.”

 - Enrico Pieranunzi

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

What is it about Jazz groups in general, and piano-bass-drum trios specifically, that finds them constantly and continually changing personnel?

One frequent explanation given by the leaders who form and reform such groups is that by listening to how “other voices” [i.e. Jazz musicians] go about shaping the music through their singular approach to improvisation, it helps to keep their own inventiveness fresh and their creative edge sharp.

From my own experience, I found performing with different musicians to be fun because one hasn’t previously heard what they “have to say” or the way in which their going to “say it”.  This newness of association provides a sense of adventure in the process of making music together.

What is also very satisfying is to return to working with musicians that one has performed with in the past and to hear what’s new and different in their playing as they have continued to grow and develop in the music.

All of these generalizations are apparent in the recorded work of Enrico Pieranunzi, particularly in his trio work which, judging by the preponderance of the recordings he’s made using bass & drums, would appear to be his favorite musical setting.

Perhaps the reason for the prevalence of Pieranunzi trio recordings can be summed-up in the following excerpt from Wim van Eyle’s insert notes to Enrico’s New Lands trio recording [Timeless CD SJP 211]:
“One of the most enjoyable of all Jazz forms is the piano trio: three is an ideal number for improvising together with great possibilities of interplay within the trio. If there are stylistic boundaries they can be crossed and passed at all times, the trio format is an ideal format, a start point for superb Jazz playing”

Recorded in 1984, New Lands finds Enrico in the company of bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joey Baron. Although, Pieranunzi performs with a variety of bassists and drummers over the ensuing 25 years, he keeps returning to Johnson and Baron as his trio of preference.

Yet, as noted previously, each time these three old friends are reunited, their bond or “chemistry” becomes stronger which makes it possible for them to seek out more adventurous expressions of The Art of the Trio.

Interlaced during the intervening years, we find Enrico in the company of bassists Charlie Haden, Hein van de Gein, Piero Leveratto, Enzo Pietropaoli and drummers Billy Higgins,  André Dédé Ceccarelli, Roberto Gatto, Fabrizio Sferra, among a host of others. Talk about keeping one’s skills sharp through working in a variety of musical situations!

Here are reviews by Nat Hentoff, Art Lange and Thierry Quenum to further acquaint you with Pieranunzi and his music from other perspectives.

Deep Down [Soul Note 121121-2]

“There are jazz pianists who have a wondrous abundance of technique, but aren't saying much of anything except: ‘Look how fast and daring I am!’ And there are jazz pianists who sound as if they really should have been percussionists. Their music is often arresting, but they illuminate only a part of the piano. Then there are the jazz pianists who are full of feeling but whose ideas have been borrowed from other much more original musicians so that you're actually hearing an anthology rather than an individual statement.

On the other hand, there are jazz pianists not too many in any generation - who, first of all, know the piano. All of it, with both hands. And they get sounds from the piano that can only come from a loving awareness of the full potential of that orchestral instrument. Bill Evans was one such player, as was Teddy Wilson; and others have included Luckey Roberts, Duke Ellington (especially for those who heard him playing for himself at dances before all the sidemen were in place), and Mary Lou Williams.

These pianistic pianists have also been characterized by a deeply, ardently, romantically lyrical sound and conception. They are not afraid of sensibility, but they do not confuse sensibility with sentimentality. And this kind of pianist is also characterized by a flowing, unerring sense of time. They swing deep and hard without making a loud show of how deep and hard they are swinging.
When I first heard this album by Enrico Pieranunzi, what struck me most forcefully was the wholeness of his music. I mean it all fits - the ideas, the remarkably deep and full sound he gets from the piano, and the romantic impulse. Some very good players tend to leave loose ends - in structure or in articulation or in their play of colors. Pieranunzi's performances, though improvised, appear in retrospect to have been born as complete compositions.

With regard to sound, note should also be taken of the work here of bassist Marc Johnson. He has played with, among others, Bill Evans and Stan Getz, and like them, Johnson has a connoisseur's devotion to sound. Not sound in and of itself, but as one of the key elements of telling a story.

Also convinced of the subtle power of mesmeric sound is young drummer Joey Baron who reveals here how closely he listens to his associates. And as he listens, he knows how best to shade and sculpt the beat behind them.

All of them, but particularly Pieranunzi because of the scope of his instrument - are skilled at dynamics, the nuances and subtle dramas inherent in the management of volume. With this particular skill, along with his other attributes, Pieranunzi - for all his taste for lyricism - can be intensely exciting. He knows how to build tension, then build some more, and then how to make the resolution of those tensions dramatically satisfying. …

Clearly, Pieranunzi is a complete musician and, in terms of jazz, both as a composer and pianist, his work is continually, satisfyingly clear. He does not clutter up his scores or his improvising with technical excesses. He knows what he wants to say, and he knows how to say it exactly. There aren’t too many creators of whom that can be said.”  - Nat Hentoff 1987

First Song [Soul Note] 121222-2]

“Pieranunzi is a multi-dimensional musician … [and] as the music here so lucidly demonstrates; Pieranunzi is a luminously lyrical pianist with a constant flow of idea and corollary colors that is the source of continuous pleasure. He is not a sentimentalist. These are clear clean lines that are not weighed down with bathos or false dramatics. This is music, not posturing.

In his solos, moreover, Pieranunzi builds the kind of quality of designs that have a powerful inner logic and appear, in retrospect, to have been inevitable. None of his notes or phrases are superfluous.

And, most basic for jazz, Pieranunzi can swing – crisply and surely. But in those tempos, he remains his lyrical self. His music swings. …” – Nat Hentoff 1990

Seaward [Soul Note 121272-2]

“Some jazz musicians are acrobats, others are lumberjacks, some are scientists and still others mimes (going through the motions with nothing to say). But only a few are artists. I've come to believe that Enrico Pieranunzi is one. With each new recording he releases, more proof is added to the positive side of the ledger. And this new trio date, where he is ably assisted by Hein Van de Geyn and Andre Ceccarelli, provides some of the most convincing, evidence of all.

An artist is not necessarily one who has a complete vision in his or her mind's eye, but rather is alert to the peculiarities and possibilities of the moment, who can adapt and alter their material in response to changing conditions, and who can discover transcendent properties in the ongoing process of the creative act. In jazz, where improvisation affords a fundamental tension between the known and the unknown, form and meaning are often derived spontaneously and simultaneously. It takes artistry to decipher coherent form from mere formula, and meaning from conventional content. Such artistry requires more than talent or craft, it demands a heightened awareness of the impossible and the willingness to make it real.

Pieranunzi is an artist of lyrical nature and classical design. Technically, at the keyboard he commands a satin tone and a sensual touch - you can almost feel his fingers sliding across the keys, the way you can sometimes feel the barely visible brush strokes in an Impressionist painting. But equally important is his individual sense of perspective, the attitude that illuminates his music. Whether the piece is an original or a standard tune, one gets the feeling that he is never just playing - or even interpreting - the song, but composing it on the spot. In so doing he reveals latent meanings, hidden relationships, and psychological suggestions in the twists and turns of melody and often surprising harmonic colors he explores.
This impression of rare moods and elusive feelings is enhanced in this case by his chosen repertoire, and the titles allude to an atmosphere of romance and mystery - footprints, dreams, memories, last night, yesterdays, key words, and rhapsodies. The music emerges in various ways, at times in a conversational mode, elsewhere in a contemplative or melancholy mood. Though he is especially sensitive to the subtle pressures of rhythm or tempo, and how they can effect the story he is telling, the pianist takes unexpected paths, shows us surprising scenery, even where we thought we knew the terrain. Notice the way he forcefully interposes "But Not For Me" at first in an uncomfortable harmony and up-tempo, though the tune is commonly done as a dirge.

"Yesterdays," too, usually sung as a lament, here flows from familiarity to fantasy, held together on a sinew of determination.

Not everything is soft focus and intimation. When the trio builds up a head of steam, as in "Footprints," they retain their equilibrium; everything remains in balance and proportion. There's never a sense of strain or undue effort. The segue from "This Is For You" to "But Not For Me" is the result of a confidence that is based not upon instrumental facility but conceptual prowess, oblivious to risk. Similarly, the poised, almost Chopinesque playing in "L'heure Oblique" belies not only its atmospheric title (conjuring visions worthy of Magritte, de Chirico, or Ernst) but the ominous left hand ostinato on which the melody teeters over a precipice. Though the melodic curves of "Straight To The Dream" may cause us to question the perspicacity of the title, the trio's bounce and gracefully gradual acceleration provide a firm sense of direction. And if "Seaward" and "What You Told Me Last Night," the pair of modest, Schubertian soliloquies which frame the program, contain, at least for me, the most moving moments of this hour, it is due to Pieranunzi's ability to heighten the impact and imagery of his material with the most subtle phrasing imaginable.”
Artistry comes in many forms and styles. Not every artist works with the epic canvas or the grand gesture. In a world where drama is daily presented to us on a global scale, where our psyche is bombarded with ever larger and louder sensory overload, it becomes more and more difficult to discern the subtlety and nuance of the small scale artist, to recognize the individual personality of the pianist who whispers instead of shouts. It is no diminishment of one's powers or imagination to work in an intimate setting. And the rewards may be all that much greater, if we can remind ourselves to listen closely, and to appreciate what we hear.” [Emphasis, mine]

-Art Lange, December 1995

In 2001, Pieranunzi was recorded in performance by the Holland-based Challenge label with his old friends bassist Hein van de Gein and drummer André Dédé Ceccarelli. The occasion was a concert at the “Le Duc Des Lombards” that took place on April 21, 22, 24 – 2001.

Released in 2005 as the 2-CD set Live in Paris [Challenge CHR 70126], here’s what Thierry Quenum had to say about the music performed at that concert by Pieranunzi, van De Geyn and Ceccarelli in the insert notes that he prepared for the album:

“In this beginning of the XXIst century jazz has reached, in Europe, the remark­able status of a music considered both as an art and a superior form of enter­tainment, far better accepted and respected than in its native USA. Besides, it is often played by European musicians with a level of fluency and creativity that rivals and sometimes surpasses that of many « native speakers ». Enrico Pieranunzi, Hein Van de Geyn and Andre "Dede" Ceccarelli - each of them born in a European country where jazz flourishes - are three prominent exam­ples of this phenomenon.

Pieranunzi, a classically trained pianist - who even taught classical piano for a long time, parallel to his career as a jazz musician and a third activity in film music (notably for his fellow citizen, composer Ennio Morricone) - was initial­ly influenced by Charlie Parker, Bill Evans, Martial Solal or the French Impressionists before developing his own style: typically Italian, but also a model for most younger European pianists, and deeply respected by the likes of American pianist and singer Patricia Barber, along with all lovers of lushly carved melodies, rich harmonies, and poetic piano touch. Few musicians are able, like him, to play as well with Americans like Lee Konitz, Marc Johnson or Paul Motian, and with Europeans like Enrico Rava, Philip Catherine or Bert van den Brink.

For this new trio venture Pieranunzi has chosen a first class European rhythm pair, with whom he already recorded in studio 10 years ago: Hein Van de Geyn and "Dede" Ceccarelli. Besides being world famous specialists of their instru­ment, these two know each other very well, since they played for years behind Dee Dee Bridgewater. Of course, their empathy is a key aspect of this trio, the last of many that Pieranunzi has led, and already one of the best, all the more since it was captured live in one of the most famous Paris jazz clubs.

The repertoire that the trio has chosen includes some Pieranunzi composi­tions, but is mostly based on classic and modern standards, delineating a broad field of action that shows how much these musicians embrace jazz with arms and hearts wide open. It also gives indications on the level of their mas­tery of the idiom: it takes a great deal of talent and seasoning to be able to ride one more time - and with a fresh vision - the chord changes of staple tunes like "Footprints" or "Body & Soul".

Pieranunzi, Van de Geyn and Ceccarelli, most listeners of this CD will realize, form a "European Dream Team" of a trio, that is bound to convince audiences 'round the world, thanks to their musicianship and to the level of interaction they develop. It is clear that today Europe has definitely become the second continent of jazz."

With the 1999 release of Don’t Forget the Poet on the Holland-based Challenge Records [CHR 70065], Enrico would continue his pattern of periodically selecting a number of his compositions and scoring them for horns in a small group.  On this occasion, he arranged eleven [11] of his tunes, including such favorites as Persona, Hindsight and Seaward for a quintet that included Belgian trumpet and flugelhorn player, Bert Joris, fellow Italian Stefano d’Anna on soprano and tenor saxophones, and Dutchmen Hein van de Geyn on bass and Hans van Oosterhout on drums.

Michael Nastos prepared this review of the recording for the All Music Guide:

“Heard in solo and trio sessions prior, here's a quintet recording for pianist/composer Pieranunzi that reflects the Euro-landscape ECM sound so familiar to fans of Keith Jarrett, but especially to Kenny Wheeler enthusiasts.

Bert Joris on trumpet and flugelhorn is largely responsible for this sound, but saxophonist Stefano d'Anna mixes and matches every brassy move with his own serene musings. Bassist Hein Van de Geyn is more present as the producer of the date than as a bassist, while drummer Hans von Oosterhout rounds out this rather together ensemble.

Of these 11 pieces penned by the leader, two are influenced by samba. Wheeler's lyricism with d'Anna's soprano identifies "Persona," and a hotter rhythm sets up a repeated simple-song motif with d'Anna's tenor on "Child of the Real & Ideal." There are several waltzes: the sweet "Coralie" perfectly marries tenor and flugelhorn; "Time's Passage" goes more soulful and slightly contemplative; "A Nameless Gate" is easygoing and most Wheeler-like; and "Hindsight" has "Cry Me a River" underpinnings.

The best swinger is the boppish "Newsbreak" with distinct but loose bass inferences. Joris really shines as an individualist on flugelhorn for the ballad "With a Song in My Heart," as well as on trumpet for the two-note accents and slightly overblown solo during "It Speaks for Itself." Most reflective of its name, the true-tone poem title track sports gossamer-thin, fragile thematic segments, mostly in a processional 6/8.

The finale "Seaward" is deeper with minimalist piano, impressionistic soaring horns and bass, and the most European/ECM-like stance. This music no doubt emphasizes beauty over swing and tonal lyricism over blues connotations. It compacts improvisation within a natural, wooden framework, and overall, amounts to quite a pleasant effort.”

Another of Enrico’s delightful forays beyond trio Jazz occurred a few years later in 2006 when he brought a quintet plus the voice of Ada Montellanico into the Casa del Jazz.

Inaugurated on April 22, 2005, The House of Jazz [Casa del Jazz] occupies the beautiful Villa Osia which was built in the 1930's by the architect Cesare Pascoletti.

In a bit of irony, given the somewhat dodgy early history of Jazz in the United States, the building and the grounds were appropriated [confiscated?] by the "Comune di Roma" from a well-known, local criminal and restructured into a facility devoted to the perpetuation of Jazz in Italy and Europe!
This three-storied building and its magnificent park which sits on two and half hectares is designed to be a multi-functional centre for Jazz performances and related activities. In addition its the multi-purpose auditorium that seats 150, the complex also includes a state-of-the-art rehearsal rooms, recording studio, library and multimedia archive room.
Also available are sleeping quarters for Italian and foreign artists, a restaurant/cafe' and a beautiful parkland featuring a variety of specialty gardens.

According to my translation of a press release from Palaexpo, the specialty company charged with its management, the idea of Casa del Jazz: "is to encourage and propagate Jazz here in Italy, creating the chance for musicians, promoters and critics to meet together and to promote activities for the benefit of all those who wish to acquire a knowledge and understanding of Jazz."
Beginning with a 2005 CD of drummer Roberto Gatto's quintet performing the music of the Miles Davis Quintet that featured Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancok, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, Palaexpo has subsequently produced a series of “jazzitaliano Live” recordings made by groups performing at Casa del Jazz. including those by Rosario Giuliani, Stefano di Battista, Maurizio Giamarco, Enrico Pieranunzi, Gianluigi Trovesi, and Franco d’Andrea, among others.

Pieranunzi’s jazzitaliano live 2006 [Palaexpo 08] shows the full range of his creative abilities.  Once again, the recording is made up of eleven tracks on which he is joined, in various combinations, by Fabrizio Bosso on trumpet and flugelhorn, Rosario Giuliani [soprano & also saxophones], Luca Bulgarelli and Pietro Ciancaglini split the tracks on bass and drummer Walter Paoli. Ada Montellanico is the guest vocalist who sings in both English and Italian while also participating with the horns as another “voice” [no pun intended] on some arrangements, all of which are written by Pieranunzi.
Pieranunzi and Giuliani are old pals from their many years of working in the Italian studios recording the movie and TV scores of Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota and Piero Umiliani, among others.

Recently, when not fronting their own groups, they have begun performing Jazz together and Pieranunzi will return the favor by appearing the following year in concert on Giuliani’s jazzitaliano live 2007 [Palaexpo 04]  
In this 66 minute concert, there’s a little bit of everything to suit a variety of Jazz sensibilities, but the most intriguing element may be how well Ada’s voice is employed as a unison horn on some tracks and in harmony with them on others.
Some of what she sings in this fashion is very complicated and she pulls it off very well. Ada either has the ability to read music or has a very well-developed ear, or both, because she sings her parts with a musicality of the highest quality.

The concert begins with Pieranunzi in piano-bass-trio mode on his beautiful Ein li Milin. Enrico plays the melody over a “implied” bossa nova beat.

You can listen to this track at the following YouTube link while also viewing images of Enrico – Ein li Milin.

Next up is Night Bird on which the “Young Pups,” Giuliani and Bosso are clearly enjoying themselves on Pieranunzi’s masterful arrangement as demonstrated by their joyous and enthusiastic solos. Night Bird is one of Enrico’s older, original compositions dating back to his early years with Chet.

Up next is Armida’s Garden, on which Ada makes her first appearance which, unfortunately, finds her singing English lyrics that she has obviously learned to speak phonetically instead of being a trained speaker in the language. However, this limitation is somewhat compensated for when following blistering solos by Giuliani [alto], Enrico and Fabrizio, Ada joins in a unison “shout” chorus before taking the tune out in English.

Now that she is firmly entrenched as part of the band, Ada continues her unison singing with the horns on Persona, another of Pieranunzi’s old standbys.  Pieranunzi shapes Bosso’s trumpet and Giuliani’s soprano around Ada’s contralto vocal range and adds himself in bass clef to create an exciting four-part harmony for this very striking melody which he takes at a  surprisingly fast tempo.
Pieranunzi, ever adept at pacing a concert, slows things down considerably with As Never Before, which opens with Bosso playing the melody in Miles Davis fashion with a Harmon mute placed against the microphone. The tune provides a short interlude that gives both the musicians and the concertgoers a chance to catch their collective breath while also serving as a balladic feature for Bosso and Enrico.

On Autumn Song the spotlight turns to Rosario Giuliani who leads the quartet with a romping solo on soprano sax before giving Walter Paoli a chance to shine on batteria by exchanging eight bar and then for bar breaks with the drummer.

The second half of the concert is comprised of five tunes, three of which find Ada Montellanico singing in her native Italian.

First up is Enrico’s original Non Posso Sognarti Come Sei. Ada absolutely sparkles; her voice radiating a warmth due to her familiarity with the lyrics that is lacking when she attempts to enunciate lyrics in English. Following her statement of the melody, she goes on to join Bosso, who has switched to flugelhorn, in a unison chorus that is stunning in both its complexity and lushness of sound.

Pieranunzi certainly has a penchant for writing beautiful and captivating melodies and this is no less the case with the concert’s next tune – Fellini Waltz – which is played in a sprightly manner with Giuliani on soprano and Bosso once again of flugelhorn. The solos by Bosso and Giuliani are exquisite and demonstrate their excellent skill on their respective instruments.  These guys really “get around” on their horns with an ease that is at times breath-taking.  Another of Enrico’s clever, interludes this time with the horns harmonized, serves as a vehicle for him to inter-weave his own solo before the horns return to the tune’s haunting memory.

The concert continues with two tunes by Luigi Tenco, an ill-fated Italian balladeer whose brief fling with flame came to an end with his apparent suicide in 1974.

Primarily known for his romantic melodies, the lyrics to Tenco’s Il Tempo Passo are sung by Ada in ¾ time before she joins with Giuliani in another of Pieranunzi’s exquisitely arranged unison counter-melodies, this time pairing Ada’s contralto with Rosario’s soprano in the horn’s lower range.

A bouncy version of Tenco’s Se Sapessi Come Fei is next offered by Montellanico with swinging solos by Rosario on alto and Bosso on trumpet. The tune ends with perhaps the most dazzling display yet of Pieranunzi’s use of Ada’s voice in conjunction with the horns in a “take me out,” shout chorus that, judging from the impromptu applauses that follows it, blows everyone away.

Pieranunzi ends the concert much as he began it by returning to his introspective best as he concludes the evening’s musical festivities with a solo piano rendition of his Winter Moon.

The Casa del Jazz concert is an indication of how mature an artist Pieranunzi has become and how masterful he is in performing in a array of Jazz settings. The music recorded that evening also serves to show Enrico’s talents as a first-rate composer-arranger.

… To be continued in Part 3