Despite a clear understanding of the jazz tradition that pervades everything he touches, Italian pianist Enrico Pieranunzi cannot escape his own ethnic roots. On albums as diverse as his pensive duet album with bassist Marc Johnson, Trasnoche (EGEA, 2003), and the chamber jazz of Les Amants (EGEA, 2004), Pieranunzi's impressionistic improvisational style marries comfortably with a certain indescribable Mediterranean sensibility. One can't exactly place one's finger on it, but there's always a hint of warm breeze or the sense of walking down a boulevard surrounded by centuries-old architecture. There's a feeling of history absent from the relative youth of North American styles.
And as visual as Pieranunzi's own writing is, when he approaches the film music of Frederico Fellini, as he does on FelliniJazz , his impressions become even more vivid. This should come as no surprise, given most of Fellini's scores were written by Nino Rota, a composer whose sense of style elevated his music beyond mere accompaniment, creating a legacy of themes so memorable that hearing but a few notes is sufficient to recall the films with which they are associated.
For this session Pieranunzi has gathered a group of musicians, strong leaders all, who imbue the music with distinct personality but also with an equal degree of surrender. Drummer Paul Motian is ever the colourist, yet here he defines the time more explicitly than is his habit, swinging gently on "La Dolce Vita" and contributing an oddly elegant military march to the waltz of "La Strada." Bassist Charlie Haden, like Motian, is more direct, with a softer, suppler tone than usual.
And while the emphasis is clearly on lyricism, the ensemble has its moments of abandon. Four-and-a-half minutes into "La Strada," the tempo picks up and then disintegrates into a free-for-all with trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and saxophonist Chris Potter jousting abstractly with Pieranunzi, until the tune finally dissolves into "La Notti Cabiria," which starts as an outré kind of boogie woogie before settling into a half-time swing where Potter delivers a tenor solo that cleverly matches history with innovation. Wheeler's characteristic sense of melancholy seems notably absent from the entire set, and his atypical muted trumpet tone on the tango of "Amarcord," while less piercing and containing a number of signature intervallic leaps, displays a surprisingly close reference to Miles Davis.
While Rota's music dominates, the rubato treatment of Luis Bacalov's "La Città Delle Donne," a trio feature for Pieranunzi, Potter, and Motian that presages their work on Doorways , feels more like a purely Motian treatmentall colour and texture while retaining the skewed sexuality of the original score. And Pieranunzi contributes two tracks that, evocative and provocative, fit perfectly within the sometimes visceral and often oddly humorous Fellini universe.
FelliniJazz stands as a fitting tribute to music that was instrumental in defining rather than merely supporting Fellini's films, and Pieranunzi's reverent yet adventurous ensemble demonstrates just how well the music stands on its own merits.
Personnel: Kenny Wheeler: trumpet, flugelhorn; Chris Potter: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Enrico Pieranunzi: piano; Charlie Haden: bass; Paul Motian: drums