Some composers' work is so uniquely and blissfully melodic that a musician need do no more than pick out the top line to induce happiness in the listener. Like Lalique glassware or Ming porcelain, the tune is a thing of beauty complete in itself, capable of standing a lengthy gaze or multiple repetition without any danger of boredom setting in.
At their best, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Thelonious Monk are among those who can deliver this simple whammy. Italian soundtrack composer Ennio Morricone is another. A conservatoire-trained trumpeter, Morricone briefly pursued an orchestral career (in the early '50s) before discovering he had a talent for writing the sort of tunes that would make Verdi or Mozart weep with envy. Italian radio and TV welcomed Morricone with the enthusiasm of hookers greeting a new and prosperous client, and Rome's movie producers weren't far behind. In the '70s and '80s it seemed like most of the major films coming out of Italy had Morricone soundtracksbe they spaghetti westerns, pulp thrillers, or art house productions.
Before his jazz reputation was secure enough for him to abandon anonymous session work, Enrico Pieranunzi mined the silver screen too, playing on dozens of Morricone soundtrack sessions. He first returned to the material on his own terms in '01 with this album, a huge success in Italy and now released in the US for the first time. (The same trio recorded a second Morricone album in '02, and there are rumours that Cam Jazz may put both out in a box set in a year or so.)
"Addio Fratello Crudele" opens the album with the sort of hushed, quasi-religious vibe that EST has adopted and given a chillier Scandinavian spin. After a simple statement of the theme on piano, Marc Johnson delivers a brief variation on the bass, before Pieranunzi returns with a longer exposition of the melody. Here, as throughout the album, Pieranunzi doesn't so much improvise as embellish, confident enough of his raw material's intrinsic value to know when to leave it be and let it speak, more or less, for itself. On the more sprightly, high-stepping "I Malamondo" which follows, Pieranunzi embellishes the changes instead of the top line, as do Johnson andin an exciting exchange of fours with the pianodrummer Joey Baron.
And so Play Morricone continues, delightfully, for just over an hour. The only break from Morricone compositions comes with Pieranunzi's "Just Beyond The Horizon," a slow, wistful ballad not dissimilar in atmosphere to "Addio Fratello Crudele."
Along with Bill Laswell's Material treatment of Morricone's spaghetti western oeuvre in the mid-'80s, Pieranunzi's celebration is amongst the most attractive yet to come out of jazz landfor the simple reason that both men have had the sense to leave things pretty much, and gloriously, alone.
Addio Fratello Crudele; I Malamondo; La Domenica Specialmente; Mio Caro Dottor Grasler; Ninfa Plebea; Jona Che Visse Nella Balena; Just Beyond The Horizon; Le Mani Sporche; Quando Le Donne Avevano La Coda; Il Prato.
Enrico Pieranunzi: piano; Marc Johnson: bass; Joey Baron: drums.