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Pierluigi Balducci: Blue from Heaven

John Kelman By

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Traveling the world from South Africa to Svalbard, a harsh truth is revealed: despite challenges facing recorded music—and, paradoxically, the sheer volume being released—an increasing number of musicians deserving broader recognition are unable to transcend their native countries. Hiring internationally renowned players might seem a good tactic, but the result too often reflects exactly what it is: unknown musicians playing with ringers. The music may be well-played—as it better be from such musicians of caliber—but does it actually feel like a group, players actually engaged together?

With four previous recordings, and a number of film scores and live European appearances behind him, the answer for Pierluigi Balducci is a resounding yes. An electric bassist clearly informed by Steve Swallow but never sounding like the American four-stringer, Balducci's all-star cast includes Oregon's reed/woodwind multi-instrumentalist Paul McCandless, the vastly influential pianist,John Taylor, and Michele Rabbia, the Italian percussionist whose profile has, most certainly grown through his series of ECM recordings with pianist Stefano Battaglia, including their 2010 duo session Pastorale.

A recording of unrepentant lyricism suggesting, at times, how Oregon might sound, had it originated in a Mediterranean country rather than the American Northwest, seven Balducci originals—one, the breezy 6/8 "The Light of Seville," bookending the record: first, as its de facto opener following the rubato miniature, "Introduction," its gentle melody a variation drawn from "The Light"; and, again, bringing Blue from Heaven full circle with a similarly structured take possessing just a tad added strength—are complemented by two covers that could not be more different yet, in these superb hands, cohere completely with the rest of the set.

Taylor sits it out on pianist Brad Mehldau's "Unrequited"—originating on Art of the Trio, Vol. 3: Songs (Warner Bros., 1998) but reprised, with guitarist Pat Metheny, on Metheny Mehldau (Nonesuch, 2006). Balducci draws upon early days as a classical guitarist, providing chordal accompaniment for McCandless' soaring soprano solo while, during his own affecting turn, demonstrating absolute comfort navigating its changes. The Metheny link continues with bassist Charlie Haden's "Our Spanish Love Song," from the pair's Beyond the Missouri Sky (Verve, 1997), another piano-less trio track.

Despite the name-power of those tracks, it's Balducci's writing that both shines and defines Blue from Heaven. The tango-esque "Fin de Siècle" shifts feel throughout its four-and-a-half-minutes, Taylor's increasingly buoyant support and Balducci's firm quarter-notes relaxing when the group turns to half-time, but only briefly. The bassist delivers a brief but compelling solo combining melodic intent and lithe imagination, while Taylor builds on characteristically dense voicings and dexterous linearity. McCandless, on oboe, reiterates the song's theme before taking the last and longest solo, his vertical intervallic leaps as impressive as his note-perfect thematic accuracy on this most difficult of double-reed instruments.

At just under 44 minutes, Blue from Heaven seems to pass by in an instant, but if there's truth in the adage "leave them hungry for more," Balducci succeeds in spades. He may have done so with musicians possessing considerably greater cachet, but throughout Blue from Heaven, this evocative and provocative bassist/composer is never less than a full-on and absolute equal.

Track Listing: Introduction; The Light of Seville; Fin de Siècle; Unrequited; Life in Three Sketches; Blue From Heaven; The Sky Over Skye; L'Equilibrista (to Ernst Reijseger); Our Spanish Love Song; The Light of Seville (alt. take).

Personnel: Paul McCandless: oboe, soprano saxophone; John Taylor: piano; Pierluigi Balducci: electric bass; Michele Rabbia: drums, percussion.

Title: Blue from Heaven | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Dodicilune Records

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