While created in order to serve a greater vehicle, soundtrack music often takes a life of its own. Such is the case with Nino Rota's compositions for Italian director Federico Fellini's classic films, collected, arranged, and reinterpreted on FelliniJazz by pianist Enrico Pieranunzi. When taken out of the context of the (mostly) '50s movies from which these themes came, these pieces have a remarkable durability. Credit Pieranunzi for resurrecting and reconstructing themand he's not new to soundtracksalong with his all-star improvising quintet, featuring trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist Charlie Haden, and drummer Paul Motian.
The beauty of FelliniJazz is that it stands as an independent entity, though obviously those familiar with the Neapolitan music (and films) it draws from will appreciate extra layers of meaning. Chris Potter, an emerging star who first gained appreciation for his work with Dave Holland, channels his softer side and delivers some intensely lyrical playing on both tenor and soprano saxophone. He was but 32 when these tracks were laid down in March of 2003, which places him at least a generation behind the other players, but he speaks with an authority far beyond his age and he's a nice fluid match for Wheeler's thick-toned voice, especially on flugelhorn.
The first part of "La Dolce Vita" gets underway with an outspokenly romantic introduction, horns weaving in and out of the main melody; the swells and surges of the theme serve as a jumping-off point for Potter's succinct, multi-layered soprano solo and Wheeler's own deliciously soft and twisting statement. But then the tune picks up speed and unexpectedly surges headlong into a brief, freely improvised section and combusts, mirroring events in the film. The second part swings harder, heading back into old school hard bop with unapologetic deliberateness, though some turbulence remains down the road.
Each of these players has a demonstrated ear for the outer sounds of modern jazz, but for the most part this is a straight-ahead affair. Their articulate, spontaneous delivery contributes just the right kind of momentum to keep these tunes steaming along without sinking into sentimentality. And that's essential when working with material this melodic and often nostalgic.
FelliniJazz is a remarkable accomplishment. The passion and intellect of this music continue to reveal new layers of meaning with each new spin.
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