Trio Magic: Live in Japan & Ballads

Ken Dryden By

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Pianist Enrico Pieranunzi, bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joey Baron aren't really a regular working trio, but whenever they meet for a recording session or short tour, the gathering of these three musicians is a cause for celebration. They first worked together in 1984 after they were stranded in Rome after a tour was cancelled, with Pieranunzi being called in to do a pickup date with the Americans at Music Inn. Since then they have recorded a number of CDs together, as well as spending time on the road as a trio. Pieranunzi's lyrical style is clearly influenced by the late Bill Evans, while Johnson spent two intense years as a member of Evans' trio, so it is a natural fit. Baron is the perfect type of percussionist to round out the group, providing masterful background accents while, like Johnson, also working with a number of other Evans-influenced pianists.

Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron
Live in Japan

in the spring of 2004 and highlights from several different concerts were chosen for the engaging 2-CD Live in Japan. With the exception of several works by legendary film composer Ennio Morricone, all of the material is original, dominated by the trio's three stunning extended improvisations. "Impronippo" hints briefly at the standard "All the Things You Are" in a very abstract way, bringing to mind the intensity of Keith Jarrett's Trio concerts (but thankfully without any gratuitous moaning). Baron's sparse, slow-to-develop introduction to "Improleaves" builds the tension for the leader's entrance, with Pieranunzi following a similar pattern and hinting briefly at the structure to "Autumn Leaves" occasionally in his right hand without building upon it. The final trio improvisation, "Improminor," is the most structured of the three long improvisations, beginning with an ominous opening but transforming into a post-bop cooker, with fine solos all around. Their breezy take of Morricone's "Nuovo Cinema Paradiso" and percolating arrangement of his "Musashi" also prove memorable.

Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron

Although Ballads was released prior to Live in Japan, it was actually recorded in the studio following the trio's Far East tour. As its title suggests, Ballads consists of laid-back arrangements, all beautifully played in lyrical settings. Pieranunzi draws from standards of the Great American Songbook and works by European songwriters, plus his own compositions and one by Baron. Their approach to each piece is rather reserved for the most part, never straying too far from the melody yet making every note count, though Pieranunzi does get a bit animated for a time as he takes over after Johnson's solo in "These Foolish Things." Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing" has a similar structure, with Pieranunzi showing flashes of Evans' harmonic sense. All of Pieranunzi's originals are enjoyable, though no one song stands out from the pack. Baron's contribution, "Thought," is a melancholy miniature. Ballads is a perfect CD for a quiet evening at home.

Tracks and Personnel

Live in Japan

Tracks: Aurora Giapponese; Impronippo; How Can You Not?; If Only For A Time; Mio Caro Dottor Grasler; Musashi; Improleaves; Winter Moon; Broken Time; Tokyo Reflections; Nuovo Cinema Paradiso; Ninfa Pleba; When I Think Of You; Improminor.

Personnel: Enrico Pieranunzi: piano; Marc Johnson: bass; Joey Baron: drums.


Tracks: Mi Sono Innamorato di Te; These Foolish Things; When I Think of You; A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing; The Heart of a Child; Sundays; Thought; Night After Night; When All was Chet; Miradas; Cabiria's Dream.

Personnel: Enrico Pieranunzi: piano; Marc Johnson: bass; Joey Baron: drums.


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