Saturday, May 29, 2010

Enrico Pieranunzi with Rosario Giuliani at the House of Jazz in Rome

Usually associated with the romantic-lyrical style of voicing chords that the late pianist Bill Evans ingeniously adapted to Jazz from classical music composers such as Debussy, Satie and Scriabin, Enrico Pieranunzi can really "bring it," too, as confirmed by his romping accompaniment and solo in this YouTube featuring soprano & alto saxophonist Rosario Giuliani performing his original composition Mr. Dodo at the House of Jazz in Rome, Italy.

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

Thursday, May 27, 2010


One of Life’s great joys is listening to a guest artist perform in concert accompanied by the musicians who comprise Holland’s skillful and talented Metropole Orchestra.
 This time it is pianist Rob van Kreeveld performing Kenny Barron’s Wildlife with the Metropole conducted by Lex Jasper.  Martijn Vink supplies the brilliant drumming.
 J. Reinders wrote the arrangement which takes full advantage of the orchestra's "symphonic" capabilities and the animals in the YouTube provide the visual beauty. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


This YouTube may not be everyone's cup of tea, but the editorial staff at JazzProfiles has always had a fondness for Science Fiction imagery and wanted to use this as the basis for experimenting with high resolution graphics set to music. The music is by trumpeter Jeff Beal and soprano saxophonist Harvey Wainapel performing pianist Kenny Barron's Anywhere accompanied by Holland's wonderful Metropole Orchestra conducted by Jim McNeely. The arrangement is by Jeff Beal. Try viewing this one in a full screen setting [click on the multi-directional arrows in the lower right-hand corner of the border] to get the full effect of the high resolution images.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Enrico Pieranunzi Trio

Pianist Enirco Pieranunzi performing his original composition - Ein li Milin - with Pietro Ciancaglini on bass and Walter Paoli on drums.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Enrico Pieranunzi: Part 1 - The Early Years

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

“The much-discussed “globalization” of jazz is not always apparent down here on the ground. Take Italy, for instance. It boasts arguably the strongest jazz scene outside the United States, yet most American jazz fans would be challenged to name three Italian jazz musicians.

Enrico Pieranunzi … was schooled in classical piano from early childhood. … His discovery of jazz as a teenager led to a piano style in which jazz and classical languages are unconsciously and organically interwoven. “I love Bach like I love Bill Evans. I love Mozart like I love Paul Bley. For me, piano music is piano music,” says Pieranunzi. He is largely self-taught in improvisation, and speaks of learning to “decode” jazz by studying Erroll Garner records. His single most important influence was Chet Baker, with whom he played frequently in the ’80s.

“Chet and I exchanged maybe 10 words in all the years I knew him,” Pieranunzi says. “We never talked about anything but the titles of songs. Before I met Baker I had been a very extroverted player. But Chet played so few notes—only the essential ones. He was so melodic that he helped me learn something very difficult: to make the piano sing.”

- Thomas Conrad JazzTimes

“The Italian is an elegant performer and an often unexpected composer, a storyteller who very seldom lapses into abstractions. His piano style is a hybrid of Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock, with boppish accents that recall Bud Powell rather than Monk. … He uses all the ground-breaking modern discoveries in modality, rhythm and the broadening of pianistic devices to his own ends.”
- Richard Cook & Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed. [p. 1197].

Regular visitors to JazzProfiles may recall a series of features that ran on the blog that were comprised of excerpts from Italian Jazz pianist Enrico Pieranunzi’s book about the late Jazz pianist Bill Evans entitled: Bill Evans: Ritratto d’artista con pianoforte/Bill Evans: The Pianist as an Artist.
For those of you who may have missed this piece, it ran as a 6-part series and can be found in the Blog Archives beginning under February 6, 2009 and appearing on consecutive weeks until ending on March 13, 2009.

Ever since this series of Pieranunzi-on-Evans, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles has been grappling with a way to get its arms around this articulate musician-cum-writer’s extensive career in order to present it to the readers of the blog with some semblance or order and coherence.

Not including his appearances on other albums and with a discography of close to 80 recordings under his own name, attempting to write a feature on this extraordinary musician is a daunting challenge.

With this in mind, while the following feature on Enrico Pieranunzi may not represent success in this quest, it is at least a start.
Born in Rome on December 5, 1949, Enrico Pieranunzi’s development as a Jazz artist has much in common with that of his contemporary, Michel Petrucciani, the late French, Jazz pianist.

Both began studying piano at an early age: Petrucciani at the age of four and Pieranunzi at the age of five; each urged on by fathers who were guitarists. 

Both were classically trained for many years and, as a consequence, developed a style of playing that fused classical technique with Jazz.

Early in their careers, each fell heavily under the spell of, and worked in the harmonic tradition of pianist Bill Evans, and each developed into pianists of considerable technical ability who matured out from under the weight of Evans’ influence to find their own voice.

Both Enrico and Michel performed with a whole host of Jazz luminaries during the formative and later stages of their careers: Petrucciani with the likes of Clark Terry, Charles Lloyd, Lee Konitz, Wayne Shorter, Jim Hall, Dave Holland, Tony Williams, Eddy Louiss, Stephane Grappelli while Pieranunzi has performed with, among others, Frank Rosolino, Sal Nistico, Kenny Clarke, Johnny Griffin, Chet Baker, Joey Baron, Art Farmer, Jim Hall, Marc Johnson, Lee Konitz, Phil Woods, Charlie Haden, Mads Vinding, and Billy Higgins.

“When Chet decided that we should play a particular piece it was because at that moment he needed exactly that piece to express himself. For him each piece was a living thing he would return to again and again and whose features, whether happy or sad, he rediscovered every time. He knew the lyrics to almost all of the titles we played, the stories they contained, and in his performances he revived those stories. … His ear was extraordinary, as was his ability to force the audience into listening to what his trumpet and his voice had to say.”
 – Enrico Pieranunzi

Although both Pieranunzi and Petrucciani primarily favor the piano-bass-drums trio format, each has had their original compositions arranged for small group: Both Worlds, a sextet album that features Petrucciani’s works arranged by Bob Brookmeyer and Don’t Forget the Poet on which Pieranunzi arranged his own tunes for a quintet featuring Bert Joris on trumpet and flugelhorn and Stefano D’Anna on soprano and alto saxophones.

Pieranunzi issued his first LP in 1975. Since then, he has performed widely with his own group at European and American jazz festivals and in a variety of European Jazz clubs.

His recorded work falls basically into three categories:

[1] as accompanist with others such as Art Farmer, Chet Baker, & Phil Woods,
[2] as the leader of various piano-bass-drums-trio configurations and his own instrumental groups and in
[3] his solo piano recordings and his of recorded homages to Italian film composers.
Among pianists working in the harmonic tradition of the late Bill Evans, Enrico Pieranunzi has achieved a rare individuality, bringing an unrivaled sense of line and sheer sonority to the style.

Along with the advanced harmonic language, Pieranunzi belongs to what has been described as a native bel canto tradition that extends to classical pianists as brilliant as Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and Maurizio Pollini and film composers like Nino Rota and Enrico Morricone, both of whom he has performed with on a number of well-known Italian movies.

Enrico’s teaching experience, in jazz and in classical music, is also noteworthy. He has served as a full professor of piano at the “Conservatorio di Musica” in Frosinone. His latest CD is dedicated to the music of Domenico Scarlatti, which not surprisingly combines jazz improvisation with classical music.

Given the immense size of his discography, perhaps a starting point might be some of the albums that he has made with two of modern Jazz’s most prominent figures; Art Farmer and Phil Woods.

And, just as a point in passing, although it may be difficult to obtain, Phil Woods’ playing on PHIL’S MOOD [Philology W 27-2] is in our opinion some of the best that he has ever recorded.

Isis  [Soul Note 121021-2]

“1949 wasn't necessarily a special year for Art Farmer. He had already been gone from his hometown of Phoenix, Arizona for a few years, and - although still only 21 - had been back and forth between Los Angeles and New York with such bands as Horace Handerson, Floyd Ray, Johnny Otis, and Benny Carter.

1949 was a very special year for Enrico Pieranunzi. It was the year he was born.

Yet, despite the "generation gap" in their ages, and despite the distance from Rome, Italy to Pine Bluffs, Iowa (where Art Farmer first saw the light of day), Art Farmer and Enrico Pieranunzi are very much soul mates. They both have their roots in bebop, they both are cracker-jack soloists at all tempos, and they both have unashamedly wide romantic streaks in their playing. This album may be named after the Egyptian goddess of the moon, but there is plenty of sunshine in this collection of three bebop anthems, three Pieranunzi originals, and a couple of pop standards, and more than several bolts of lightning.” – Lee Jeske, 1981 insert notes

“Art Farmer’s always lyrical, inviting flugelhorn fit nicely into this quartet and quintet setting matching him with an Italian ensemble. They covered standards, such bop anthems as Dizzy Gillespie's "Blue 'N' Boogie" and Charlie Parker "Ah-Leu-Cha," plus Pieranunzi originals "Little Moon" and the title track. Pieranunzi's light, enticing piano phrases made a nice contrast with Farmer's effortless, shimmering solos, while bassist Furio Di Castri and drummer Roberto Gatto handled rhythm details smoothly, and special guest Massimo Urbani chipped in with vigorous alto sax solos on three cuts. A solid, often delightful session.” – Ron Wynn, review in

PHIL’S MOOD [Philology W 27-2]

“There are many people who consider Philip Wells Woods to be the finest alto saxophonist alive. But sadly that is no­wadays less of a tribute than it might seem: after all, most of the great ones are dead. Parker, of course; Stitt; Cannon-ball; Art Pepper; Paul Desmond; Willie Smith; and the inef­fable Hodges. Of those that remain, Benny Carter is still as good as ever in his 80s; Jackie McLean and Ornette Cole-man continue to delight; and then there is a heartening num­ber of young players, amongst whom Briton Chris Hunter, Austrialian Ray Swinfield and American Richie Cole have gi­ven this writer very considerable pleasure. But the field is a shrunken one, compared to the glorious days of jazz. So I must make a further declaration, more contentious but I believe properly in keeping with Woods' stature. He is, quite simply, one of the best altoists ever; and one of the most pleasing things about jazz during the last ten years or so has been the long-overdue emer­gence of Phil as an undoubted heavyweight who — at last — has been given regular and sympathetic opportunities to record.
For there was a time when it seemed to me that Phil would probably be chiefly known as one of the jazz world's best, and largely unsung, side-men. Despite early promise as a leader for Prestige (Woodlore, in particular) his recorded work was predominantly that of a guest or ensemble player. One thinks of the magnificent Monk Town Hall Concert; his important role in Benny Carter's Further Definitions, alongsi­de Benny, Charlie Rouse and Coleman Hawkins at his most imperious; and several splen­did Quincy Jones dates where Phil's contribution was vibrantly central. Above all, there are the albums Phil made as part of the orchestra of his close friend Oliver Nelson — The Jazzhattan Suite, More Blues And The Abstract Truth and Full Nelson come most readily to mind. Less happily, one also recalls that the majority of his staple studio work was a waste of his prodigious gifts. Most days would see him asked to record an hour's worth of assorted Jingles and TV commercials; and although his artistry was properly employed on a few Jimmy Smith dates, most of his other jazz-oriented session work was ephemeral, merely a part of the anonymously stellar line-up with which Verve's 60s boss Creed Taylor saw fit to pad out the work of Wes Montgomery, Cal Tjader and other. And as David Waddington points out in an illuminating essay on Woods (Jazz Journal International, June 1989), the only album Phil cut in America during this period was the "infamous" Greek Cooking for Impulse, which the altoist has since dismissed as an "unadulterated gimmick".
The 1960s were thus a time of frustration and disillusionment for Woods, and precipitated his emigration to Paris. His reasons were chiefly musical ones, although he had also become disenchanted with many aspects of the American system, not least in the way it threatened his part-Negro stepson. He left America in 1968, and almost at once his fortunes impro­ved. He completed a memorable engagement at Ronnie Scott's in London, and shortly afterwards founded the cele­brated "Phil Woods and His European Rhythm Machine". They recorded a great deal; all of their work is excellent, but I'd particularly commend the Live At Montreux 72 album (Pier­re Cardin STEC 131) and the Birth of the ERM (Philology 214-W-16/17): the latter is notable for the range of material and catholicity of musical invention. And this European re­nascence gradually rekindled American interest in Phil's work. He cut the magnificent Musique Du Bois for Muse in 1974 in New York, and since then has recorded regularly on both sides of the Atlantic. Of his most recent work, Phi­lology's three-album set The Macerata Concert with long-term confrere Mike Melillo on piano perhaps deserves pride of place, although Denon's Gratitude, with trumpeter Tom Harrel and pianist Hal Galper, is har­dly less fine.

Of course, choosing favorite records is a wholly subjective activity; what is a matter of objective fact is Woods' towering stature amongst today's jazz artists. It's been a long time a-coming, maybe; let it continue for at least as long. This album teams Phil with Italy's award winning Space Jazz Trio, who made the exquisite Little Girl Blue with Chet Baker in March 1988 (Phi­lology 214-W-21).
In 1990 the prestigious Italian jazz maga­zine, Musica Jazz, voted them Italy's 'Best Group'; furthermore, leader Enrico Pieranunzi took the 'Best Musi­cian' spot. Enrico is not only a very fine pianist; he is also a notable composer. All the tunes on this album are his, with the exception of bassist Enzo Pietropaoli's Upstairs, and they show that his pulsating lyricism as a player is beautifully com­plemented by a muscular sense of form and feel for melody when it come to writing. In addition, both as accompanist and composer, there can be few musicians so instinctively sympathetic to Woods' multifaceted art. The set gets off to a richly satisfying start with New Lands.

The theme is quintessentially boppish in style and feel, arpeggio-based and semi-chromatic, and Woods tears into it as to the manner born, his torrential solo a celebration of all that is finest in bop, although the harmonies are frequently modernized. Enrico deftly slows down the pace at the start of his solo before launching into a coruscating reading that, while recalling Bud Powell and Chick Corea, reveals a mature and independent piano voice. Then piano and alto merge in a thrilling contrapuntal cadenza before closing the piece with rhapsodic intensity. To these ears, the second take is both smoother and even more enterprising. For two choruses Phil wails over Pietropaoli's bass before the piano rejoins, and underpinned by the trio's fiery brilliance Phil es­says a solo even more authoritative than on the first take. The arrangement remains essentially the same, however, and listeners have a fascinating opportunity to hear the art of improvisation in raw practice — and of course to make up their own minds which one they prefer!
The CD then allows us Night Bird. Its theme is accessible but haunting; it is also decidedly bluesy, and the quartet are soon to be found digging into its muscular sequences with raunchy power. Phil's solo builds in intensity before Enrico explores his fine composition with delicacy and sprung tension. A warmly cogent bass solo gives way to an exchange of fours between Woods and Kramer, and the piece ends in arrestingly 'suspended' fashion. Chet is a deeply felt tribute to Mr. Baker in which Enrico Pieranunzi perfectly evokes the trumpeter's amalgam of tough lyricism and delica­te power. The theme is adventurous, flowing, suitably threnodic, and alto, piano and bass take superb solos. Back to bop's core with Phil's Mood, urgent in theme and fiery in exploration. The same kind of virtuosity from all four men that characterizes New Lands is on hand again — a celebration of Parker-Gillespie Inc.'s bounteous gift to music which is nevertheless entirely con­temporary in its harmonic imagination. And listen for Phil's concluding glissando — it's really so­mething! All great jazz musicians have an instinctive sense of programming; and after the molten power of New Lands Phil offers us the tenderly contrasting Blue Ballad, unquestionably one of the album's high spots. It is a ravishing melody which Phil milks with love and profound under­standing: indeed, this performance exemplifies Phil's rare ability to captivate utterly while just playing the melody — a characteristic he shares with Hodges, Rollins, Getz and Webster. His long silky lines are quietly devastating, and his gorgeous solo is enhanced by Enrico's outing, full of grace and sensuality. Woods is rightly feted as a ballad player, and I find this track definitive in its reverent melodiousness and understated passion.

Enzo Pietropaoli's Upstairs, like New Lands, offers two intriguingly contrasting takes. Again, the second is perhaps the more assured, retaining the first's cooking excitement while achieving a greater integration and serene authority. The theme is angular yet melodic, and establishes Enzo as a composer of promise. Finally, the set's loveliest tune, Hindsight, finds Phil on clarinet. His exquisite tone and the fluid purity of his lines makes one wish that he featured himself more often on the instrument than he does — except then we'd be robbed of some of that glorious alto. Ah well, one can't have everything — even on this album.”

-Richard Palmer 1991

Staff writer, Jazz Journal International; contributor, Musica Jazz; author of Oscar Peterson (Spell-mount, 1984) and Stan Getz (Apollo, 1988).

Elsa [Philology W 206-2]

PHIL WOODS / ENRICO PIERANUNZI "ELSA " (the Ferrara, Sala Estense, concert - July 31, 1991)

"’I have been on tour now for two weeks with what I consider one of the finest pianists in the world,’ Phil Woods proudly explained to the packed and captivated audience which had assembled in Ferrara, Italy, in July 1991 to witness one of his rare European appearances.
The subject of this generous and richly-deserved testimonial was Enrico Pieranunzi, leader of Italy's premier small jazz group, the immensely talented Space Jazz Trio. For one splendid and unforgettable fortnight that summer, Italian jazz fans were treated to a short series of duet and quartet performances featuring Phil, Enrico and the two remaining members of Space Jazz, Enzo Pietropaoli on bass, and Roberto Gatto on drums. The duet album you are about to hear, and its companion album, Phil Woods and the Space Jazz Trio Live at the Corridonia Festival (Philology W 211.2), comprise an invaluable documentary of this truly memorable season. We are indebted to Phil's great supporter and admirer, Paolo Piangiarelli, not only for organizing the tour, but for ensuring that so much of the marvelous music produced by Phil and the Space Jazz Trio has been made available to a wider listening audience.

‘Out of this world!’ was Paolo's understandably proud and enthusiastic description of this musical collaboration between two of his closest friends. Certainly it seems like a pairing made in heaven. A month prior to this date; Woods had participated in another outstanding duet recording for piano and saxophone - the ravishing Flowers for Hodges session with Jim McNeely (Concord, CCD - 4485). The handsome and professorial-looking Pieranunzi had also taken part in a recent succession of highly acclaimed duet recordings for the Philology label, including a ballad album with the legendary trumpeter, Chet Baker in 1988 (The Heart of the Ballad -Philology W 20.2, Chet's last studio album), and a studio session alongside another great American alto player, Lee Konitz in 1989 (Solitudes -Philology W 28.2).
Add to these credentials the fact that Woods and Pieranunzi had worked together previously on the excellent Phil's Mood [Philology W 27.2] 1990 album [see below], which united the saxophonist with the Space Jazz Trio, and it becomes easy to appreciate how they were capable of achieving such rare musical compatibility. From the jaunty, confident opening bars of Have You Met Miss Jones? Woods' opulent, lucid alto playing is superbly complemented by the intelligent lyricism of his partner. It soon becomes evident that while Pieranunzi's uniquely variegated style defies obvious comparison; his playing is occasionally redolent of some of Phil Woods' all-time favorite pianists, such as Bud Powell and Bill Evans.

Woods' hot, glowing sound is as spellbinding as ever arid, even on this opening track there are appetizing signs of the empathy and understanding which pervades the entire album. The American's wonderful solo on the second track, September Song, ranks alongside his finest ballad performances. The alto is attractively underpinned by delicate work from Pieranunzi whose own extended solo is cascading and effusive-a musical waterfall. Night Bird is quite simply a jazz masterpiece. Robust and energetic, it boasts some glorious musical interplay between two mature talents playing at the pinnacle of their abilities. The beautiful Elsa contains suitably moving contributions by both men. A smoothly executed segue then transports the audience into Someday My Prince Will Come, easily the lightest and most relaxed piece on the album, and one on which Pieranunzi plays with characteristic eloquence and virtuosity. The harrowing Goodbye Mr. Evans is delivered in faltering, heart-rending style by Woods, his occasional paroxysms of anguish suddenly flowering into a brief, show-stopping cadenza. Then just as instantly, the tune is transformed into Willow Weep For Me, a piece of unremitting creativity by both men. You and the Night and the Music feature Woods at his smoothest and most buoyant -a latter-day Johnny Hodges, while the album's final piece, Chet, is Enrico Pieranunzi's beautiful, gossamer-winged tribute to the beloved trumpet star. Deft and disarming from its outset, the tune grows progressively tenderer, eventually reaching an intensely poignant climax. The music on this album conclusively supports the claims of those people who regard Phil Woods as the finest alto saxophonist of his generation. If there is any justice, it will also guarantee Enrico Pieranunzi the international recognition his talents undoubtedly deserve. I doubt whether you will hear a finer and more satisfying musical collaboration all year. Let us hope that it is merely the first of many more between them.”

Dr David Waddington (Sheffield, UK, May 1992)