It's a rare thing when three musicians can really come together, not with the kind of camaraderie and simpatico that evolves from weeks, months, or even years of touring together, but within the context of relatively infrequent meetings in the recording studio. But Italian pianist Enrico Pieranunzi appears to share a clear musical bond with bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian, based on the strength of last year's FelliniJazz. Of course, one might argue that the Haden-Motian team has such a long historydating as far back as the late '60s with pianist Keith Jarrettthat they could make anyone look good. And to some extent there's an element of truth in that statement.
But while Haden and Motian can elevate almost any session, there is clearly something special about their rapport with Pieranunzi and, consequently, the title of Pieranunzi's latest release, Special Encounter, is fitting indeed. The distinguishing characteristics of the recording are a certain late-night ambience coupled with an ego-less pursuit of deeper lyricism. This is not an album that dazzles with stunning virtuosity or blazing energy; rather, it's the care and attention given to every note, and an introspective viewpoint, avoiding meaningless navel-gazing, that makes it such a rewarding listen.
This was originally conceived as a ballad albumand it definitely favors slow tempi, whether on the three standards or the originals brought to the session by both Pieranunzi and Haden. The trio brings a quiet vibrancy and subtler exploration that prevents the session from being bogged down in overt sentimentality. Think Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen's trio, but with a more mainstream emphasis.
That's not to say that the session is completely retro. While the standards"My Old Flame, "You've Changed, and "Why Did I Choose You? all tie this session to the tradition, pieces like Pieranunzi's "Secret Nights and "Loveward, while keeping in touch with the tranquility and spaciousness of the set, feel more harmonically modern, with impressionism and implicitness that broaden the texture of the disc. Haden's compositionsthe languid "Nightfall, the brighter "Waltz for Ruth, and the gently swinging "Hello My Lovely all feel more like direct descendants of the standards material, while Pieranunzi's writing comes from a more European aesthetic.
Motian, of course, is the master of implication, and Haden often chooses phrases that suggest more than they explicitly assert. While Pieranunzi, on a series of recordings for EGEA and CAM Jazzincluding specifically last year's Doorways, a series of duets with Motianhas proven his mettle when it comes to spontaneity and formidable ability, here he is looking more for the essence of the material, exploring ways to make the interpretations sing.
In its exploration of a darker vibe that nevertheless manages to capture a delicate energy, Special Encounter may appear straightforward and uneventful on first pass; but masked within its apparent simplicity are rich layers that reveal themselves with subsequent listens.