After having released seven recordings for the Italian EGEA label in settings ranging from solo to trio, when pianist Enrico Pieranunzi was asked what he'd like to do next, he immediately replied, "a CD with piano, sax, bass anda string quartet." Given the green light, Pieranunzi put together a series of pieces that seamlessly combine the rich culture of the string quartet with the improvisational verve of a jazz chamber trio. The result, Les Amants , successfully marries these two traditions in a way that is respectful to both, balancing them perfectly in a combination that is dramatic without being melodramatic, sweet without being syrupy, and completely accessible without losing a certain sense of exploration.
The music, for the most part, leans to the romantic, with just a hint of melancholy. That four pieces on the disk are reworked from his '00 release, Racconti Mediterranei , which featured Pieranunzi in a trio with master clarinettist Gabriele Mirabassi and bassist Marc Johnson, is no surprise, as these are all rich pieces that lend themselves to treatment in a more extended form. With Johnson remaining from the Racconti Mediterranei session, there is also a certain continuity, although on this date Mirabassi's clarinet is replaced by Rosario Giuliani's saxophone, lending a deeper resonance to the trio.
At times the string quartet and trio blend as one; at others the quartet is used to introduce themes for the trio, or expand upon them. While improvisation adheres strictly to playing over form, much in the way that Steve Kuhn did on his recent album with strings, Promises Kept , there is no sense of rigidity or confinement. There are times in fact, as in the title track, where the trio even swings. Much of the rhythmic drive is relegated to Johnson, whose lithe and understated sense of groove is always evident, even on "Canzone di Nausicaa," where the time is so supplely placed that one only becomes aware that the piece is in an irregular meter when one actually stops to count.
But as successful as he is at blending the two ensembles into a conversant whole, the project would fall apart if Pieranunzi, along with Johnson and Giuliani, was anything less than a masterful improviser. Johnson's sense of history is without question, of course, his experience with three-way interplay going back to his days as a member of Bill Evans' last trio. But Giuliani's lyrical and playful solos are equally vivid. And Pieranunzi has proven, on such recordings as Nausicaa , with trumpeter Enrico Rava, and his '03 duet recording with Johnson, Trasnoche , that he can combine the best of the European improvising tradition with a firm understanding of the American roots of jazz.
And, as is characteristic of virtually all of EGEA's releases, Les Amants imbues a rich sense of the Mediterranean, evoking clear images of turquoise seas and the smell of fresh sea air. Les Amants is clearly another success for both Pieranunzi and EGEA.
Personnel: Enrico Pieranunzi (piano), Marc Johnson (double-bass), Rosario Giuliani (saxophone), Gabriele Pieranunzi (violin), Alessandro Cervo (violin), Francesco Fiore (viola), Daniela Petracchi (cello)
Angelo Cicillini replaces Francesco Fiore on viola on "Canto del Mare"