The effect that one's culture has on one's music can never be underestimated; two artists from distinct backgrounds who approach music from a similar angle will ultimately be shaped by their own origins, often despite themselves. Pianist Ketil Bjornstad, for example, blends a certain neoclassicism with the improvisational nature of jazz; but the end result, when influenced by the folk tradition of his native Norway, is as cool as the fjords. Italian pianist Enrico Pieranunzi shares a similar approach but, when combined with the romance of his country's folk tradition, feels considerably warmer, like a breeze off the Mediterranean. His latest release, Trasnoche , pairs him with American bassist Marc Johnson in a series of duets that delicately and elegantly caress the senses.
Johnson is the perfect accompanist for Pieranunzi. Peter Erskine once described Marc Johnson as "the most interesting bassist I've ever worked with. His Yin and Yang, the masculine and feminine elements in his playing, always made the most interesting rhythmic relationship I've ever had with a bassist." Indeed, Johnson can be muscular and deep, but also sensuous and graceful. His arco work on 'Islas' is ethereal; tender and sentimental but never maudlin. His pizzicato work on the same track, especially on the seemingly endless ascending pattern that intensifies almost to the breaking point before releasing with an almost audible sigh, is strong yet supple.
Pieranunzi is responsible for all the compositions, barring one brief piece that is completely improvised with Johnson. Throughout the programme he emphasizes thematic development; his solos are filled with memorable motifs that linger long after their time has passed. There is a certain nobility about his writing, whether it be the gentle waltz of "A Second Thought" or the melancholy of "Thiaki." And while improvisation is part of the equation, it is balanced by structure; even the purely improvised "Clouds" is based around a rhythmic piano conceit that gives it a sense of design.
Trasnoche means "beyond the night," and has its root in a line by the Spanish poet Pedro Salinas, "I am in search of an image in the night and beyond the night." The image that Pieranunzi and Johnson quest for is dark but tinged with brighter colours; this is music that is at once melancholic while still maintaining a certain optimism. The seeming disparity is resolved by the impression that somewhere between these two emotions is a place of peace, but that both need exist in order to truly understand when one has found the centre, the balance. By articulating these ideas musically, Pieranunzi and Johnson demonstrate the true link between the arts; that music's true power is its ability to abstractly translate thought into pure emotion.
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