Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dean of Italian Pianists: Enrico Pieranunzi

According to the All Music Guide, Rome native Enrico Pieranunzi has 50 recordings to his credit as a leader, and countless other sessions as a supporting player. His own website numbers over 70 recordings in total. Whatever the number, Pieranunzi is clearly one of the most prolific pianists of our times since he stepped center stage in the 1970s.  His first recording as leader according to the discography was made in 1975, when Pieranunzi was 26, and since then his music has been a staple of the Italian and international jazz scene. Whether in the classic piano trio format, duos, or as a soloist; or in larger groups or as a sideman, Pieranunzi brings elegance to anything he plays.

I am totally hooked on Pieranunzi, and consider him to be my number one pianist.  His works are tremendously varied, not only in the format/groupings, but also in the range of music from which he draws inspiration both as a player and as a composer. His music includes songs from the great jazz standards, Italian standards and folk music, movie scores from Rota and Morricone, the classical pieces of Scarlatti, Bach, and Handel, and tributes to Wayne Shorter and Bill Evans; alongside his own compositions and those of others writing jazz today. His interpretations range from the straight-forward to gorgeous flights of fancy as he interprets, energizes, and recreates the songs in his own vocabulary. He is a classicist at heart and student of that form, as well as a student of Evans and other post bop players. Never straying too far from the melody or basic harmonics, he nonetheless opens new horizons on any song he touches. He thinks large and plays large, not with a lot of single note runs but rather with lots of chordal voicings from both hands, as if he was composing for an orchestra and all of its voices.  

Product DetailsI pulled from my shelves 34 CDs on which Piernanunzi is the leader, ranging from 1980 up to his most recent recording, "Permutation" (CamJazz 2012), a trio with his longest standing group of Marc Johnson on bass and Joey Baron on drums. Johnson, in fact, has played with Pieranunzi regularly since at least 1980, and the two have made two exquisite duo recordings, "Transnoche" (Egea 2003) and "Yellow and Blue Suites" (Challenge 2008).

Rather than trying to describe individual songs or CDs, I would sum up Pieranunzi's play with the following adjectives:
  • Product DetailsElegant
  • Lyrical
  • Expressive
  • Prolific
  • Creative
  • Sensual
  • Eloquent
  • Fresh
  • Energetic
  • Captivating
Furthermore, it is often said that you are known (or judged) by the company you keep.  So here is a list of the most common playing partners of Pieranunzi on his recordings, starting with the non-Italians: 
  • On bass, Marc Johnson, Charlie Haden, Hein Van de Geyn, John Patitucci
  • On drums, Joey Baron and Paul Motian, Hans Van Oosterhout, Antonio Sanchez, Billy Higgins
  • On piano, Bert van der Brink 
  • Product DetailsOn saxes, Chris Potter, Phil Woods, Lee Konitz, Ronnie Cuber, Yosvanny Terry
  • On trumpet, Kenny Wheeler, Chet Baker, Eric Vloeimans, Diego Urcola, Art Farmer (flugelhorn) 
  • On guitar, Philip Catherine, Jim Hall

And Italians galore. Among the best known:

  • Roberto Gatto, drums
  • Dado Moroni, piano
  • Enzo Pietropaoli, bass 
  • Enrico Rava, trumpet
  • Fabrizio Bosso, trumpet 
  • Rosario Guiliani, saxes 
  • Gabriel Mirabassi, clarinet 
  • Product DetailsGianluca Petrella, trombone 
Hopefully, the above has established Pieranunzi's incredible credentials and perhaps a sense of his playing in your mind. With that in mind, here is the list of re3cordings that I have in my collection, coded as follows:

  • Red writing means solo recording
  • Blue writing means trio
  • Black writing includes all other combinations
  • ***** Five stars indicate the recordings that I might suggest today as the best places to start. By tomorrow, however, that could change. Basically any Pieranunzi is a good Pieranunzi. The best way to select for the first time probably is to decide on the grouping, and then on the mix between standards or other sources of the music. Or perhaps on the supporting players, Motian versus Baron, Haden versus Johson, etc.

In chronological order:
  • "Jazz Roads" (CamJazz 1980), with Roberto Gatto, Marc Johnson, and Steve Houghton (d)   
  • "No Man's Land" (Soul Note 1990) with Marc Johnson and Steve Houghton
  • ***** "The Night Gone By" (Alfa Music 1996) with Marc Johnson and Paul Motian
  • "The Chant of Time" (Alfa Music 1997) with Marc Johnson and Joey Baron
  • "Un'alba Dipinta Sui Muri" (Egea 1998) Solo
  • ***** "Daedalus' Wings" (Challenge 1999) 2 pianos with Bert van den Brink
  • "Don't Forget the Poet" (Challenge 1999) Quintet
  • "Plays the Music of Wayne Shorter" (Challenge 2000) With Hein van de Geyn and Hans van Oosterhout
  • "Improvised Forms for Trios" (Challenge 2000) Hein van de Geyn, Hans van Oosterhout
  • "Evans Remembered" (VVJ Jazz 2001) Sextet  includes Fabrizio Bosso and Gabriel Mirabassi
  • ***** "Play Morricone" (CamJazz 2001) Marc Johnson and Joey Baron
  • "Alone Together" (Challenge 2001) Quintet
  • "One Lone Star" (YVP Music 2002) Quartet includes Roberto Gatto and Rosario Giuliani
  • "Current Conditions" (CamJazz 2003) Marc Johnson and Joey Baron
  • ***** "Transnoche" (Egea 2003) Duo, with Marc Johnson
  • ***** "Fellini Jazz" (CamJazz 2004) Quartet with Chris Potter Charlie Haden and Paul Motian
  • "Doorways" (CamJazz 2004) Paul Motian and Chris Potter****
  • "Play Morricone 2" CamJazz 2004) Marc Johnson and Joey Baron
  • ***** "Live in Paris" (Challenge 2005) Hein van de Geyn and Andre Ceccarelli (d)
  • Product Details"Special Encounter" (CamJazz 2005) Charlie Haden and Paul Motian
  • ***** "Ballads" (CamJazz 2006) Marc Johnson and Joey Baron
  • "Untold Story" (Egea 2006)  Marc Johnson and Paul Motian
  • "Jazz Italiano Live 2006" (Palaexpo 2006) Septet, live from Umbria Jazz Festival 
  • "Live in Japan" (CamJazz 2007) Marc Johnson and Joey Baron
  • "Parisian Portraits" (Egea 2007) Solo
  • "As Never Before" (CamJazz 2008) Marc Johnson, Joey Baron, and Kenny Wheeler
  • ***** "Plays Domenico Scarlatti" (CamJazz 2008) Solo
  • ***** "Yellow and Blue Suites" (Challenge 2008) Duo with Marc Johnson
  • "Seaward" (Soul Note 2009)  Hein van de Geyn and Andre Ceccarelli
  • "Dream Dance" (CamJazz 2009) Marc Johnson and Joey Baron
  • "Live at Birdland" (CamJazz 2010) Latin Jazz Quintet
  • "Wandering" (CamJazz 2010) Solo
  • Product Details"Plays Bach, Handel, and Scarlatti" (CamJazz 2011) Solo
  • ***** "Permutation" (CamJazz 2012) Marc Johnson and Joey Baron

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't note three other recordings on which Pieranunzi is not listed as the leader that are rather special:

  • "Chet Baker Meets the Space Jazz Trio" (Philology 1988) with Enzo Pietropaoli on bass and Fabrizio Sferra on drums.
  • "Silence" (Soul Note 1989) Charlie Haden with Chet Baker, Enrico Peranunzi and Billy Higgins
  • "Soft Journey"  (Egea Historic Collection 2007 (recorded in 1979/80) Chet Baker and Enrico Pieranunzi with Maurizio Giammaco tenor sax, Riccardo DelFra, Bass and Roberto Gatto, drums
Try Pieranunzi. You'll find his music as rewarding and memorable as a glass of table red, some cheese, bread, and olives on a warm Tuscan evening. Ciao!

1 comment:

  1. I just discovered Pieranunzi and I'd say he's already #1 pianist for me as well. Since you have access to apparently a lot of liner notes in your collection there, do you know if he uses any particular piano exclusively? I was especially captivated by the tone in "For Your Peace" on "Untold Story"