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Enrico Pieranunzi/Paul Motian: Doorways

John Kelman By

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The amount of musical liberty in an ensemble seems inversely proportionate to the number of players involved. The smaller the group, the more exposed the players. While the piano inarguably possesses the broadest range, so that its pairing with virtually any other instrument provides for the richest possible palette, there's something about a piano/drums duo that makes for the most complete musical environment coupled with the greatest potential for free exchange. Both instruments possess the capacity for a wide range of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic ideations, so when teamed together the limits seem virtually endless.

In the case of drummers, there may be players out there who possess—or, at least, more overtly demonstrate—a greater degree of technical ability, but few are as purely musical as Paul Motian. Motian possesses the ability to make the drums truly sing, contributing texture and implied rhythm where a more traditional drummer would be weighing in more heavily with the metric characteristics of the instrument. He rarely assumes the role of strict timekeeper, which is why his participation in small ensembles—in particular duos and trios, like his longstanding collaboration with guitarist Bill Frisell and saxophonist Joe Lovano—is always a conversation amongst equals, where no instrument is strictly predominant.

Italian pianist Enrico Pieranunzi equally appreciates the broader potential of his instrument. While he might fall into a traditional "left hand rhythmically supporting the right hand'? mode on occasion, he never does so for long and instead, much like Paul Bley, looks for all possibilities throughout the range of the instrument. Equal parts European romanticist, abstruse impressionist, and jazz traditionalist, Pieranunzi has evolved into a unique voice on the European scene over the course of the past 25 years, as comfortable with the chamber jazz of Les Amants as he is interpreting the film music of FelliniJazz . But with Doorways Pieranunzi takes a bigger leap with an album consisting primarily of pieces written specifically for the duo with Motian, three purely free improvisations that nevertheless demonstrate a highly compositional mindset even in the most exploratory of contexts, and three songs created for the duo augmented by the increasingly ubiquitous saxophonist Chris Potter.

"Double Excursion 1," the first of three free-association extemporizations, may come from the ether, but between Pieranunzi and Motian there's always a sense of purpose. Searching yet focused, the composed and free pieces are almost impossible to differentiate. Pieranunzi is always on the lookout for motifs emerging from the duo's explorations, and Motian manages to colour Pieranunzi's work with light textures and subtle suggested rhythms. Elsewhere, on the noir-ish title track, Potter evokes a certain '50s vibe while Pieranunzi's rubato accompaniment and Motian's sometimes rigid, other times unbound pulses work alternatively with and against the grain.

A dialogue is only as good as the intellect and passion of its participants, and with Doorways , Pieranunzi, Motian and, on occasion, Potter, are engaging in the most vivid of conversations, filled with meaning and consistently captivating give-and-take.


Track Listing: Double Excursion 1; Double Excursion 2; Doorways; No Waltz for Paul; Utre; Blue Evening; Anecdote; Suspension Points; Double Excursion 3; Words of the Sea; The Shifting Scene; The Heart of a Child; Utre (alternative take).

Personnel: Enrico Pieranunzi: piano; Paul Motian: drums; Chris Potter: tenor and soprano saxophones (3, 7, 12).

Title: Doorways | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: CAM Jazz

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