Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Two Oudities (Ouch!)

These are not really oddities, I just loved the pun. Onwards.

There are two discs of oud masters that I found recently in a used jazz bin. They date back to their beginnings as recording stars. Rabih Abou Khalil and Anouar Brahem are acknowledged masters of their instrument and of the eastern music/jazz intersection, but as I said, these are two of their earliest efforts.

Al-JadidaIn the case of Abou-Khalil it is his debut recording, "Al-Jadida" (Enja 1991). For Brahem, it is Jan Gabarek's  "Madar" (ECM  1994). Both demonstrate beautifully the potential of the oud, tabla and other eastern instruments in jazz; both include the saxophone as an instrument that creates the link to jazz, with Gabarek the leader on his own recording, and Sonny Fortune on the Abou-Khalil disc.

MadarI happen love the sound of the oud, and the introduction of it into the jazz genre. I am not really sure I can express why I feel this way, but I can try. And I can also refer you to the August 2012 issue of Jazz Times, which has a lengthy article about the oud and oud players.   

For me I think the first thing I can think of is a general interest and appreciation for the sound of eastern music, which probably dates back to my recordings in the 60s of Ravi Shankar, whose Indian music and sitar playing first introduced a lot of us to new sounds alien to our western ears. Another long-time exposure for me was traditional Israeli music and klesmer music. Finally, the oud mirrors my favorite type of guitar/stringed instrument playing, which is the full-bodied sound of an acoustic instrument. I find acoustic guitar, be it folk guitar or flamenco, or classical, to have a richer, more full bodied sound, with more layers, than the electric guitar.

Putting  all this together, I find the oud to have a very senuous, rich and deeply felt sound. Being fretless and having 11 strings -- five paired strings and one bass string --  it can provide more tones using the eastern scale, and more subtle harmonies whichh add great depth, even when played with simpler western scales.

In short, the oud provides great coloration, a deep and rich acoustic sound, and a wide range of possible notes given its fretless neck and paired strings.

Rabih Abou Kahil is a Lebanese-born oud player creating a common ground between the Arab music of his roots and the  global musicof today. Down Beat said his music is "a unique hybrid that successfully spans the world of traditional Arabic music and jazz." He learned to play the oud as a child, but switched to classical flute, and studied at the Academy of Music in Munich, Germany, during the Lebanese Civil War in 1978. When he returned to the oud he began to use techniques more often heard on jazz guitar, and from then on has worked on created a fusion of eastern and western music on his recordings.

Rabih Abou Khalil links the east and west in his selection of instruments on "Al-Jadida", with Sonny Fortune on saxophone forming the strongest bond. Some of the music is boppish in Fortune's hands, yet the rest of the instrumation reflects both the eastern tradition, with percussion suggestive of African music. Abou-Khalil wrote all the music, and linkage of the classical western traditions, jazz, and eastern music is evident and reflective of his education. Titles like "Catania", or " Ornette Never Sleeps" suggest the western, while "Nadim" or "Nasbuwa" suggest the eastern. Overall the music has great harmonics, rapturous and sinous melodies, and very strong percussive undercurrents.

Blue CamelAbou-Khalil has gone on to great success, with numerous recordings on Enja, and has constantly changed his instrumentation to reflect his intrests, growth and experimentation with sound. I particularly am drawn to two recordings on which Kenny Wheeler plays a major role, "Blue Camel" (Enja 1992) and "Sultan's Picnic" (Enja 1994). Blue Camel in particular is cited as one of Abou-Khalil's masterpieces, with a mood characteristic of "Kind of Blue" according to AllMusic.com. It includes Wheeler, saxophonist Charlie Mariano, and bassist Steve Swallow from the western tradition, along with a number of eastern players on a range of percussion instruments. The fusion of east and west is extraordinary, and the melodies and harmonies mix both effectively to create an enchanting, seductive piece of music. "Sultan's Picnic" also has Wheeler and Mariano, but introduces a harmonica to the mix, in the person of Howard Levy, to further experiment with sound.

Anouar Brahem was born in 1957 in Tunisia, and began studying the oud at the age of ten as a student  at the National Conservatory of Music. Although he initially focused on Arabic music, Brahem increasingly incorporated elements of jazz, and spect 1981-87 in Paris advancing his interests.  He returned to Tunisia in 1987, and in 1990 he signed with ECM. His debut album, "Barzakh" (ECM 1991) was recorded with Turkish musicians.

On his second recording, Brahem was listed as a sideman. This was "Madar" , a recording of  Jan Gabarek, but given the stripped down ensemble -- the only other player was Ustad Shaukat Hussain on tabla -- he had a major role in shaping the melodies and in providing supporting harmonies. Together Gabarek and Brahem produced a distinctive sound and some distinctive melodies, including some that merged Norwegian folk songs with the eastern instruments. The tabla play is strong and helps to drive the music along as the melodies and sinuous interplay of the other  two create a really fine partnership.

Le Pas du Chat NoirBrahem has gone on to a long and beautiful relationship with ECM, producing eight other recordings as a leader. "Madar" was his second recording.  Brahem's second album as leader, "Conte De L'incroyable Amour" ( ECM 1992) was recorded with clarinet player Barbaros Erkose, and its melodies are equally distinctive and  haunting. On "Le Pas du Chat Noir" (ECM 2001) and the following "Le Voyage de Sahar" (ECM 2006) Brahem reaches what for me is his pinnacle, as he merges his sound with those of Francois Couturier on piano and Jean-Louis Matinier on accordion. Without the tabla or other percussive instruments besides the piano, the sound is far more delicate. The songs are more peaceful, and the pairing with the piano and accordion suits his style as the three draw notes and ideas draw out on wonderful pieces throughout. The interplay is lovely and thoughtful, with a lot of trading and listening to each other to provide pieces of subtlety and beauty. Brahem is wonderfully subdued as are the two others, as Couturier had demonstrated on his own ECM outings. Thesse are intensely quiet outings that improve with each listen as the flows become clearer and the subtle compings of one or another support the melodies.

If you are at all interested in eastern music and instruments, in the mix of jazz and eastern traditions, and melodies that are often haunting but always beautiful, then by all means listed to these two artists. And if you appreciate the oud, then look too at the music of Amos Hoffman, Omer Avital, and others who are spreading this fascinating instrument across many other platforms.

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Younger Generation Pianist in Italy: Danilo Rea and Doctors 3

As should be clear from previous posts, there is a coterie of Italian jazz musicians that not only lead their own bands but also work collectively together in a variety of places and settings. Pieranunzi, Basso, and Sellani are three of the grand masters, and each not only has played music with many others but each has also mentored the next generation.

This post brings to the fore one of the younger, but no less talented, pianists, Danilo Rea, whose name has already come up in conjunction with the CDs of the masters. Rea is a comparative youngster, born in Vincenza in 1957, educated at the Santa Cecilia Music Conservatory in Rome, debuting on record for the first time in 1975 with the Rome Trio of Roberto Gatto and Enzo Pietropaoli (two names for a later post)and debuting as a leader on record only in 2003.  Since then, AllMusic lists him as leader on about a dozen CDs, as well as a supporting member of countless others. He is also a member of a wonderfully inventive trio, Doctors 3, which I will include in this post as well.

During his career, he has worked with Chet Baker, Lee Konitz, Phil Woods, Art Framer, Curtis Fuller and Kenny Wheeler among international stars. Running further down the list is like looking at the "Who's Who" of Italian Jazz: Paolo Fresu, Renato Sellani, Franco D'Andrea, Roberto Gatto, Enzo Petropaoli, Flavio Boltro, Aldo Romano, Giovanni Tomasso, and Pietro Tonolo are sprinkled throughout his discography. Finally, he is also sought after as a player of Italian pop music, and has played behind many Italian pop singers. His work with  the piano trio Doctors 3 highlights that aspect of his play very well.

Rea is a player who is capable of performing across the broadest of musical categories, from classical music to jazz and pop music. As a young disciple of the masters and child of the 60s and 70s, Rea's influences extend across a wider range of music than Sellani and even Pieranunzi, although the latter certainly shows the same sparks of modernism and boldness at times that characterizes Rea's work. Rea is certainly more into the modern songbook, but still retains the same attention to melody and the harmonic sensibilities of his masters, never straying too far out of the box. His discography highlights the variety in his work, both in terms of his musical breadth as well as the settings --  solos, duos, trios, and a quintet are all a part of the collection I have of his music. These performances are done both in studio and live from the Umbria Jazz Festival, where Rea has bcome one of the featured performers in each format and with Doctors 3.

His CDs as leader demonstrate that Rea has a number of personalities that he brings to the music.
Lost In Europe
"Lost in Europe" (Via Veneto Jazz 2000) has one of my favorite whimsical covers, and documents music from a solo piano tour of Europe in the summer of that year. The range of the music is broad and the perfomrances are full of life, expression, and wit. Two pieces were penned by Rea, and several of the pieces are actually mini-suites. To understand the variety in Rea's repetoire, take the seventh piece on the disc, an amalgam of one show tune, "America", one classical piece, "Pour le Piano" by Debussy, one song by Rea, and one Italian song "Un Gioro Dopo L'Altro,"  and watch them unfold seamlessly and effortlessly. "Tico Tico" is magnificently expressive, rapidly paced, with a hidden surprise; "Sospensione so expresssive and with an ending so passionate it could make you cry.  Another suite links the following -- "What a Wonderful World", Time After Time", "La Danza", and "Mr. P.C." The music is incredible, the imagination tremendous, and the playing bold.

"Improvvisi" (Duck Record 2002) is a duo recording with drummer Robert Gatto, a major name in Italy as well. My Italian is not so good, but the liner notes basically say that in the past year the two friends decided upon a collaboration, and to do an ambitious program -- eliminating any pre-ordained playlist and in fact no songs at all unless they came to them spontaneously. They would create from the air the melodies, rhythms, and harmonies. They would be guided by their backgrounds, culture, and communal language. They would let the sounds guide them, and when they were done, they hoped to have a recording worth hearing. And they succeeded and the results speak for themselves, 13 pieces, 11 originals and two others, of varying tempos --  with a common bond of two players who clearly are in touch with each other. Jazz and classical music merges here in the originals, one of which is dedicated to Debussy, and in a lovely rendition of the Moldau by Smetana. Brilliant showmanship.

"Romantica" (Venus Records 2004) is a piano trio, with Ares Tavolazzi on bass and Gatto again on drums. My Italian might be bad, but I cannot read Japanese at all, so the liner notes are useless. But the music is magnifico -- here we have jazz interpretations of what I believe are Italian favorites, of whom I only recognize Ennio Morricone's name. What I do know is that the melodies are all as romantic as advertised in the title, Rea brings to each his full bag of expressive chords, runs, and range of dynamics. Gatto keeps the tempo, adds color, and introduces several of the tunes with the snare and cymbals, that then underlie the melodies. On "Munastero 'E Santa Clara" plays a bongo-like rhythm that adds sparkle to the tune, the second on the disc, and on Tu Si' Na Cosa Grande he maintains a latin beat for Rea's lilting tune. These sound like the "Great Italian Songbook" as sung by Sergio Franchi, Mario Lanza, and others.

Product Details"Piano Works X, Danilo Rea at Schloss Elmau: A Tribute to Fabrizio De Andre" (ACT 2010) is a solo recording in a settting that has seen a number of solo piano artists come before. Fabrizio De Andre was an Italian singer-songwriter who died prematurely in 1999, well-known in his homeland for his challenging songs and their subjects, often those who were most in need of aid. Rea has taken this powerful body of work and to it has applied his ample creative powers, as the notes say to create "...classical stud[ies] to chromatically dazzling ballads and from swinging syncopated blues to free jazz impressions." The music overflows with Rea's brilliance, expressive play, and melodic sensibilities once again. Easy to find and well-worth the effort to do so.

Rea returned to Schloss Elmau in 2011 with the trumpet player Flavio Boltro (see yesterday's post on Boltro) for "Opera". In such a brilliant accoustical setting, the sounds from Boltro's trumpet and Rea's Steinway are bell-like, clear and beautifully balanced, as the two cover 12 pieces of Monteverdi, Rossini, Bellini, Giordani, Vivaldi, Puccini, and Cilea, in their own very creative and clearly jazz-tinged way. The passions of the two classically trained players were made for this music, and the drama of the opera is transmuted to their golden sounds and to the improvisations. High drama, big emotions, all of the best characteristics of the opera are here, with a jazz twist, and played through a great range of dynamics to tell their stories. The piece most of us are most familiar with, the "William Tell Overture" concludes the CD and the twists are most evident to the non-opera listener, and very enjoyable as well. It is nothing you have ever heard --some blues, some boogie woogie -- I am sure many opera lovers would have their ears covered early and often. But not the jazz fans.

As I said before, Rea is loved throughout Italy and particularly at the Umbria Jazz Festivals each Jazz Italiano Live used to put out annual recordings from the festival of its major stars, and I have those from 2006 and 2009 by Rea: "Jazz Italiano Live 2006: Danilo Rea" "Jazz Italiano Live 2009: Danilo Rea"   (Azienda Speciale Palaexpo 2006 and 2009). The 2006 disc is a quintet with Marcello Sirignano on violin, Pietro Tonolo on saxes, Giovanni Tommaso on bass, and Massimo Manzi on drums. It is 14 pieces all written by Rea and played nicely by the group, with the crowd clearly enjoying the music, the plyaers, and the energy that readiates from all of it. In 2009, REa played with a trio, inclduing Enzo Pietropaoli on bass and Roberto Gatto on drums, an 11 piece outing that again features all original songs and the ususal high standards expected of the three players.

So who is Danilo Rea? He is a perfomer of astonishing solo concerts based on opera, an improvisor who does concerts in the manner of Keith Jarrett, a lover of the great standards from his country and the U.S., and a nodernist who enjoys the pop music of the 60s, 70s and later. He is bold ands creative, expressive and romantic, and a composer of beautiful tunes. He is lively on stage and in performance on disc, humerous in his choices, and a true entertainer, not unlike another pianist from Italy, Stefano Bollani (who will have his day here as well).

And now onto Rea's other musical identity, that of the pianist in Doctor 3, a trio with Enzo Pietropaoli on bass and Fabrizio Sferra on drums. This is one heck of a fun group, seemingly dedicated to having fun playing largely the music of their youth and mine from the 60s and 70s, interspersed here and there with the Great American Songbook. The music is simply fun and the group projects that in the studio and particularly in live performances at the Umbria Jazz Festivals. Each player is a master of his instrument, and of the repetoire, so the musical expression comes easily and creatively from each. They seem to have 6 CDs in print, of which I have four, as follows: 

Product DetailsIn 1999, the first one I have is "The Songs Remain the Same" (Via Veneto Jazz 1999), clearly a reference to Led Zeppelin, and the songs are a mix of pop/rock, standards, and traditional music. Six of the 11 pieces are composites of multiple songs, and the first starts the listener off in a traditional vein, with "Danny Boy" and "Bye Bye Blackbird." From there we have mixes like "A Salty Dog" with Charlie Parker's "Buzzy", "Stairway to Heaven" with "Cam Camini", and "Stella By Starlight" with two lovely melodies by the group and by Domenico Modugno. If this sounds a bit weird it is not; in fact the blends are done seamlessly, and the jazz improvistations polish each piece to a gem-like appeal. U2, Emerson Lake and Palmer, and Peter Gabriel all make an appearance as well on this wonderful set.

Product DetailsIn 1999 the group referenced Led Zeppelin in the title; in 2001 they reference themselves. The disc is "Bambini Forever" (Via Veneto Jazz 2001) and expresses wonderfully the child-like fun the group has when they mash the music together. Ten sets this time with only two Lennon and McCartney songs -- "Here There and Everywhere" and "She's Leaving Home" -- not being mash-ups. The rest are three or four song suites, and the range of composers include the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Wayne Shorter, Hammerstein and Kern, Pat Metheny, and Sting; along with several group originals and a set dedicated to Fabrizio De Andre. This is another hit that demonstrates that the jazz songbook can be open to much more than the Great American Standards, and demonstrates exactly how three creative musicians can turn rock into real, believable and enjoyable jazz. 

For "Jazz Italiano Live 2007: Doctor 3" (Azienda Speciale Palaexpo 2007) the group dedicated itself to two composers in a single, unified set of 13 memorable songs that almost everyone knows. The composers are Lennon and McCartney, and the set is a jazz version of "Sargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Jazz traditionalists and purists might scoff at the set, but there is nothing but imagination (no pun intended), free play, and joy in the set. Clearly the trio is enjoying themselves, and the feeling transmits itself to the live audience and over the speakers to those of us hearing it on disc. This is a toe-tapping tour de force for the trio.

In 2008, the trio came back to Umbria once more, and almost one-upped its last performance, on ""Jazz Italiano Live 2008: Doctor 3"(Azienda Speciale Palaexpo 2008), with several more rock hits in a jazz mood, with a few other songs from De Andre and others as well. This time the set varied among the rock composers -- Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin' At Me", Ragni and Rado"s "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" from Hair, Jagger and Richards' "Jumpin' Jack Flash", Paul Simon's "Sound of Silence" and "Mrs. Robinson -- included some pop by Bert Bacharach and Hal David "This Guy's in Love With You" and some soul by Otis Redding ("Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay"). But my personal favorite is the traditional "John Barleycorn Must Die" (done by Traffic) with "Steve Winwood's "Glad".

Doctors 3 must have been created to bring a smile to everyone's faces, and does everytime out. Rea's humor, shown periodically in his works as a leader outside the group, blossoms with this group, and a good time is had by all.

So that is Danilo Rea -- creative, expressive, and a master of many genres. His music is the equal of any pianist playing today, so pick one of his CDs up soon and give him a chance.

NOTE: This was post 100 on this blog. I wan't sure when I started I could get his far or had enough to say, but it turns out I have been enjoying the opportunity to write about something I truly love. I hope that those who are reading this feel the same about jazz, and maybe even about the blog. Thanks to all of you.

Look Behind the Leader: An On-going Theme

Once again it is time to look behind the leader's name on the disc to uncover some sterling music. Too often the leader's name is not recognizable and so we skip over the CD to the next one in the rack or on the website or whatever. Sometimes it may be that the leader, while a recognizable name, doesn't lead much and doesn't call out to you like some others might. And too often a really nice CD gets overlooked as a result. Here then are two that I just picked up this week.

Product DetailsFirst, a name I had never heard and I doubt most folks outside the D.C. area had, Tommy Cecil, a bassist, on a disc called "Side By Side: Sondheim Duos" (self-produced 2012). It was the name Sondheim that first attracted my attention, followed by a look at the players, of which there are only two -- Cecil on bass and Bill Mays on piano. Now that makes for a tasty treat -- a duo setting of bass and piano, an A-list pianist, and an A-list composer. Turns out the disc is as good as expected -- choice tunes from West Side Story, Sweeney Todd, Follies, Gypsy, among others, and some sweet playing by the two players as they take turns leading and comping, both hewing to the tunes and improvising along the way in a wholly original way. "Somethings Comin" opens the disc with a familiar melody that immediately sets the tone -- brisk, innovative, and melodic throughout, both men shining in their respective roles as the music unfolds easily. Cecil then covers "Not While I'm Around" from Sweeney Todd with a long opening lead under which Mays does some nice things as accompanist before taking over the lead. Mays has a lush solo on "Every Day a Little Death" from A Little Night Music and both knock a rhapsodic version of "Small World" from Gypsy for a loop. Great stuff.

Product DetailsAnd who is Tommy Cecil? From his bio, Cecil has been a regular on the Washington, DC jazz scene since 1976, and is widely sought out by local players as well as visitors. He has established himself with many of DC’s favorite jazz sons, including John Eaton, Charlie Byrd, Dick Morgan, and Shirley Horn; as as a freelance player with the likes of Mose Allison, Tommy Flanagan, and Joe Henderson. While he has been a sideman on many recordings, this is only one of two CDs as a leader. If piano-bass is a set-up you like, then I suggest you listen to this disc.

Lewis NashOn to somebody I have heard of, and who I know as a sideman on a lot of recordings, Lewis Nash. According to Allmusic.com, Nash had only one previous CD as a leader published in the U.S. and that was in 1989, along with two recordings for Pony Canyon, a Japanese label. But he does have in the neighborhood of 200 recordings as a go-to drummer, with the likes of Tommy Flanagan, Sonny Rollins, Clark Terry, Wynton Marsalis, Oscar Peterson, McCoy Tyner, Branford Marsalis, Bud Shank, Scott Hamilton, Jackie McLean, Cyrus Chestnut, and Horace Silver.

The Highest MountainSo not expecting to see Nash's name up front, it might be easy to pass over "The Highest Mountain" (Cellar Live 2012) at first, and what a mistake that would be. As noted, Nash is a well-respected, well-recorded drummer and first class performer, so you'd expect his band to be of the same caliber, and it is. The quintet features Renee Rosnes on piano, Peter Washington on bass, Jimmy Greene on saxes, and Jeremy Pelt on trumpet. Need I say much more about the music? This is first rate talent featuring leaders who have created some great music themselves recently, and who intuitively know how to play together. Together they do great things with tunes from Bobby Hutcherson, Theloneous Monk, Ornette Coleman, Joe Henderson, and Clifford Jordan, a who's who of hard bop.

Oh, and by the way, Cellar Live has produced some great stuff as well in the past few years, and Cory Weeds is to be commended for his taste as a player, producer, and club owner.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Reaching Across the Atlantic -- Some New Discs by Italians

Yesterday I was in New York City for business meetings downtown,  which meant a visit to J and R Records, which still maintains a nice sized jazz section, although clearly a shrinking one. It was noticeable that over the last two years the size of the department has been cut in half, and it appears from conversations that I had with staff that the internet is cutting into the business in a big way, especially among the younger set who are increasingly becoming used to getting their music from the ethers.

But for us oldies who like the tactile feel of a disc (or in reality that of a record/LP (let's not say vinyl please)), J and R is still a great place to browse, as they mix in some European labels in the collection.

I bought a bunch of CDs of course, some of which were fairly standard -- the first Wynton Marsalis called "Wynton Marsalis" (Columbia 1982), which I didn't own, the new Curtis Fuller "Down Home" (Capri 2012), and the debut CD by Rabih Abou-Khalil " Al-Jadida" (Enja 1991). I would recommend any of them.

But what I want to highlight here are the five which fit into my current discussion of Italians and jazz. I have played each already at least twice.  These are discs by the new generation in Italian jazz, and in three cases a collaboration of Italian and Amaerican players.

Nico Gori / Fred Hersch: Da VinciFirst up is a duo recording of Fred Hersch with Italian clarinetist Nico Gori, called "Da Vinci" (Bee Jazz 2012) a spritely set of originals by the two players -- 6 by Hersch and 1 by Gori -- with    " Old Devil Moon",  "Tea for Two" and "Doce de Coco". I had not heard of Gori prior to seeing this CD at the store, but then again in the notes Hersch indicates he had not heard of him either until he saw him play at the North Sea Jazz festival in 2010. They were drawn to each others' play and soon began to do some small venues togehter, which culminated in this recording in late 2011 in Udine, Italy. The two play seamlessly and effortlessly throughout, picking up when one leaves off, comping beautifully, or inter-twining melodies as they improvise across each song. The recording is marvelous and both players produce remarkably clean and sensual sounds from their instruments. Hersch opens with some beautiful play on "Old Devil Moon", the two play a wonderfully sensual piece "Hot House Flower" by Hersch, Gori plays a nice old-fashioned clarinet on "Doce De Coco" that is exquisite, and the closer "Tea for Two" sounds incredibly fresh for such an old chestnut. This is an A plus recording that should not get overlooked.

A biography on Nico Gori from his website. He was born in Florence in 1975, and started studying clarinet at the age of 6. He is a 1993 graduate of the Luigi Cherubini Conservatory in Florence1993, and learned from such artists as Dave Liebman and Tony Scott.  He began recoding in 1998 on some pop and jazz discs as a sideman, and since 1999 he has worked with such notables as Stefano Bollani and Enrico Rava. In 2003 he recorded his first jazz album as a leader, “Groovin’ High” (Philology 2003). He has been a member of Stefano Bollani’s New Quintet since 2004, performing in festivals and theatres all over the world, and was on the Stefano Bollani Quintet double CD “I Visionari”(Label Bleu 2005) and has since been on several other Bollani recordings.  Since 2005, Gori has led a quartet of French musicians and has been a member of an Italian-Hungarian Quartet with the well known pianist Kalman Olah. Starting in 2009, Gori started collaborating with trumpeter Tom Harrell and pianist Fred Hersch and recorded an album called “Shadows” (Universal Music 2009) with his quartet featuring Tom Harrell.

Maurizio Minardi is a pianist who is at the start of what should become a long and notable career. His newest recording "My Piano Trio" (Belfagor Label 2012) with Nick Pini on bass and Jason Reeve on drums is a marvelous set of 9 originals by Minardi. The music is lyrical and a wonderful example of contemporary jazz, rooted in the European classical tradition and also the tradition of the great standards players. The pianist crafts wonderfully melodic pieces from various sources -- traditional standards, italian folk music, the baroque, and even pop -- and creates music that is passionate and expressive of the sounds of today. The group thus has a style of its own as it fuses these diverse influences into nine finely played pieces.

Minardi has been based in London since 2008, but is originally from Italy, where he studied piano, organ and composition at the Conservatorio Martini in Bologna; and also received a certificate in Musicology from Dams University, also in Bologna. He has studied in workshops with Barry Harris, Enrico Rava, Paolo Fresu and Danilo Rea.  

ThingsReaching across the Atlantic, Paolo Fresu and Uri Caine create a subdued, beautifully recorded CD called "Things" (EMI Music/Blue Note (Italy) 2006). Clearly an overlooked disc in both players discography, this is a duo recording that shines a light on the best of both players. For this recording both are restrained and clearly listening to each other, so that the music is beautifully balanced, subtle, and sensual. There are some standards like "Dear Old Stockholm" and "I Loves You Porgy" that are shining examples of the music, but the best of them all is "Cheek to Cheek" , a truly polished gem of viruosity and lyrical play by both men. The the two have also written some beautiul pieces that show the same lyricism and restraint on both player's parts -- neither ever strays from that lovely mood for more than a measure or two -- and even the satirical title of one song in particular,"Cheney's Dick", is a really nice tune despite the expectations I had from the title. Fresu and Caine do sometimes get pretty far out on the edge in other settings, but here they bring out the best in each other, and the tones are wonderful and recording pristine. A real find!

Boltro, Flavio - Joyful CD Cover ArtItalian Trumpter Flavio Boltro, one of the younger set of Italian jazz players (born 1961) headlines a quintet on "Joyful" (Bonsai Music 2012) and is joined by some major names in European jazz -- Italy's Rosario Giulani on saxophones, the Frenchman Andre Ceccarelli on drums, Daryl Hall on bass and Pietro Lussu on piano. Three songs feature Alex Ligertwood, a Scotsman who has sung with Santana, Jeff Beck, and Brian Auger's Oblivion Express, and brings a bluesy tone to three songs including "Every Breath You Take" and "Sidewinder". The group is solid if not spectacular, with a nice quartet sound and strong leadership from the trumpet of Boltro and saxes of Giuliani. The disc is very much in the old Blue Note tradition with the two horn frontline, and plays five originals that have that mood, as well as a really short but upbeat closer in Horace Silver's "The Preacher". Their ballad take on "Over the Rainbow" is very nice even if it does not open any new ground. Overall this is a very nice disc but not an outstanding one. It is a nice listen and is not hard to recommend, but it is a notch below the first three.

Finally, a group called "The Cube" has released what I believe to be their second disc "Quiet Yesterday" (Abeat Signature Series 2012). The notes in the package indicate they did another disc in 2008 with many of the same members. "The Cube" is a collective of Italian jazz players and two notable Americans. The group here consists of Dado Moroni on piano, Stefano Bagnoli on drums, Enzo Zirelli on drums, Ricardo Fioravanti on bass, Andrea Dulbecco on vibes, Camilla Sampano Rangoni on percussion and voice on one song, and the two American players --- Bob Mintzer on tenor sax, and Tom Harrell on trumpet.

The group is truly a collaborative. Eight of the ten songs were written by members of the group, and each wrote at least one of the songs. Two songs were from composers not in the group, including Jimmy Van Heusen's "Like Someone in Love" which is played as a duet with only Harrell's trumpet and the soft touch of Fioravanti on the bass. It is a highlight on the CD, but then there are many. There are a wide range of styles and configurations on the CD, from the aforementioned duo to the full group playing on one tune with Camilla Sampano Rangni joining in as a vocalist. Among the standouts are a trio for Moroni's "Quiet Yesterday, with outstanding solos taken by Mintzer and Moroni; the full band on Harrell's "Vision of Gaudi"; and "Easy Living" with another great solo by Harrell backed by Dulbecco on marimba and both drummers. Harrell is easily the standout player on the recording with his soft round tones and deft improvisations, but the group as a whole blends their sounds effortlessly on a first class recording.

So five more Italian recordings to add to the collection. Fresu, Moroni, and Boltro are pretty well known already in Italian and have strong discographies that I will be covering in the Italian series, while Nico Gori and Maurizio Minardi do not. It is those last two, along with the Fresu/Caine duo, that probably are the most interesting of the CDs in this post and well worth the effort to locate and listen  to. So once again, find some vino rosso, formaggio, pane, prosciutto and melone, relax and listen.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Another Italian Maestro: Renato Sellani

Product DetailsRenato Sellani was born in the province of Ancona on the west coast of Italy in 1926, and is another master of the jazz piano; in fact, he is often referred to as "Il Maestro." He came to jazz late, after studying political science at the University in Rome.  It was during this time that he got hooked on jazz, spending a lot of his time in the nightclubs of the capital, and then teaching himself to play the piano at the home of a friend. This was during the period right after World War II when Italy was returning to normalcy after the Fascist era, and  the nightlife was grand.  Sellani evidently was a natural at the piano, since by 1958 he was invited  to Milan by his friend and fellow musician Franco Cerri, widely considered the best guitarist ever produced by that country. Milan was a center of the arts and a major stopping point for American jazz players at that time, and Sellani prospered by being among them. He joined the quintet Basso and Valdambrini, and played in that group for quite a long time, although he also became well known as a solo artist as well. Sellani must have been already recognized as a star, for he met and played with the singer Billie Holiday early on, and then was clearly  good enough to be Chet Baker's first pianist in Italy, and later an accompanist for Sarah and Sarah Vaughan and Helen Merrill.  The pairing produced at least one classic album, "Chet Baker in Milan" (Jazzland/OJC 1959) which is easily recommended and they also toured together. Sellani went on to play with other major figures including Lee Konitz, Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, and Phil Woods; in addition to his Italian comrades such as Rava, Basso, and of course Cerri.

Sellani has few recordings under his name until the late 1990s, when he began his current relationship with the Italian label Philology, for which he has now recorded in excess of 40 albums in a range of settings from solo to small ensembles, most often with the leading players of Italian jazz.  Still, he is hardly a household name in the United States, which according to Thomas Conrad of All About Jazz is almost tragic: "The fact that Sellani is one of the most complete, most romantically seductive interpreters of standards in all of jazz is criminally underappreciated outside Italy."

Sellani has been at it for over 60 years and is a master of the American songbook, along with Italian classics, his own compositions, and a classical repetoire including Chopin and Puccini among others. His creativity is outstanding, his playing luminous. He plays with the grace and delicacy of a master, and his seemingly casual attitude at play is more the product of years of experience than of his actual feeling toward the music. Raised in the period of the big bands and swing, he is definitely grounded in melody, and produces wonderfully lush and loving interpretations of them along with passionate embellishments and improvisations. He has been compared to Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan, two of the United States' most respected and tasteful pianists of all-time.

As noted earlier, Sellani has recorded prolifically for Philology during the past dozen or so years, seemingly catching up for all those years before. I have six discs of Sellani as leader that are all worthy of listening to and, incredibly, they were recorded between March 2007 and December, yet each is a jewel. I also have a number of discs on which he plays a support role, whcih cover his earlier period, including the Gianni Basso recordings I wrote about yesterday, as well as the Chet Baker mentioned earlier. These will be described when I discuss other Italian leaders. Here then are the seven discs in order of recording date.

Product DetailsThe first CD was recorded on March 2007, "La Mia Finestra Su Napoli" (Philology 2007). Translated as "My Window on Naples" and featuring a pretty picture of Naples Bay at night, this solo recording is a paean to Naples and its beauty. The program is purely Italian classics like "Torna a Surriento" and "O Sole Mio" and while we in the U.S. sometimes think of these songs a corny, in Sellani's hands they are anything but. Here they are poetry, as Sellani enhances the beauty of the melodic lines wtih lush chords and simple enhancements. Still, a program that would bring Italians to tears may not live up to  that standard in the U.S. despite the beauty of the music and delicacy with which it is played. Recommended for the beauty and romance but only to those who are not looking for a more standard fare.

Product DetailsIn July 2007, Sellani recorded "My Foolish Heart" (Venus Records 2008) with his standing trio of Massimo Moriconi on bass and Massimo Manzi on drums. This is a more standard set of songs taken in fact from the Great American Songbook and features the kind of sound and interplay that one associates here in the U.S. with Hank Jones or Tommy Flanagan. A risque cover but great music inside.

In September 2007, Sellani came right back, this time on Philology, with "Blues for Chet" (Philology 2008), a piano and bass duo with his longtime bassist Massimo Moriconi. With the two playing so closely together and celary listening to each other intently, they role out a series of impeccible melodies, set in 8 sections of paired songs. so they play "Blues for Chet" and "Stella by Starlight" to open, then "My Funny Valentine" with "But Not for Me" and so on tp the end. Delightful, delicious, de-lovely music throughout, with the same attention to melody with just the simplest of frosting added which absolutely will engate you. First class again.

Back in the studio on January 2008, bay now it should be clear to those reading this that Sellani is the romantic master of the standard, a ballad player of the first magnitude, and truly "Il Maestro." The penultimate recording in my collection is "Amapola" (Venus 2008), a duo piano outing with another of the deans of Italian jazz, Danilo Rea. Over 10 songs, the two trade back and forth with the same delicacy and charm each shows so often through the length of their discography (More on Rea in a coming post). The music is part American songbook and part Italian songbook, with a bit of Jobim on "Wave". Another smashing performance.

Next up in December 2008 is a tribute to Cole Porter called "True Love" (Philology 2009) with a few solos, the trio, and on a couple of songs, either Fabrizio Bosso on trumpet or Joe Lee Wilson on vocals. Sellani's piano playing is made for Cole Porter's music, and this does not dissapoint. From a snappy "Begin the Beguine" and "Just One of Those Things" to the lilting beauty of "I Love Paris" and "So In Love", the music exudes the warmth, charm, and even houmor of Porter's music and lyrics, even without the words. Classic.

Product DetailsFinally, Sellani takes on one of the true romantic composers of our times, Michel Legrand, on "Grand Piano" with his trio of Moriconi and Manzi. He actually mixes 6 solos in with 8 trio recordings, among them gloriously moving takes of "Windmills of You Mind", You Must Beleive in Spring", "I Will Wait for You ( twice, as a solo and trio), and "Summer of '42." Romance is clearly in the air, and Sellani brings it to you with his usually expressive play and lush improvisations along the way.

Sellani is "Il Maestro", and is among the most traditional of all jazz piano players. His strength is taking well know melodies and breathing into them deep expression and romance enahnced with his own embellishments and improvisations. Not a risk taker, but a delight to listen to.


Friday, July 20, 2012

A Saxophone Giant You Probably Never Heard: Gianni Basso

Enrico Pieranunzi, of whom I wrote in the last post, most likely appeared on the radar screen of a lot of readers, given his long and brilliant career and his recent recordings on CamJazz, which is a label widely available in the U.S.

I am really not sure that Gianni Basso, despite a longer tenure on the jazz scene in Italy, has nearly the recognition in the U.S. and perhaps not even in the rest of Europe. He came to my attention via Adam Nussbaum, the accomplished drummer, during a conversation at Sally's Place, as somebody I had to hear, and as I know now, for good reason. Basso is an old school tenor sax player out of the 40s and 50s mold -- a great big round sound, accomplished player of swing and hard bop, and a wonderful balladeer to boot. Think Don Byas, Ben Webster, Dexter Gordon, all of them his contemporaries, and you immediately get the picture.

Born in 1931 in Asti, Italy, his discography as a leader dates from 1960, while his career in jazz began shortly after World War II. He recorded right up until his passing in 2009, and left a long legacy of great music in his wake.  He actually began as a clarinetist playing professionally in Germany and Belgium in the late '40s with the Raoul Falsan Big Band, and then played regularly around Italy in the early 50s. He partnered with a young Italian trumpeter and composer named Oscar Valdambrini and it was their fascination for American jazz that led them to form a small combo that was the rage of Italian jazz in the 1950s. Their popularity in turn got them gigs backing up many touring American stars such as Billy Holiday, Gerry Mulligan, and Chet Baker, and that in turn opened a whole world for him of recordings, beginning in 1960 as the Valambrini-Basso Band, and later as a leader with many other recognized players from around the world.

I have ten of his CDs as a leader, and all are good, with each featuring a different grouping and aspect of his musical personality. In all he has 29 CDs listed as a leader, but many are very hard to get as they are on small or out of print labels. The bulk of my collection is from Philology, one of the outstanding labels in Italy and in fact the jazz world in general. Philology is not a readily available label in the U.S. and coupled with his very few visits, this likely explains why he is under the radar. Several others are from Japan, equally hard to get and often expensive to purchase if you find it.

Basso_Valdambrini_Exciting_6.jpgHopefully a short discussion of each album will suggest what you are missing if you have not heard Basso. I begin with a reprint of a title "Exciting 6" (Easy Beat 1967), featuring Gianni Bass on tenor sax, Oscar Valdambrini on trumpet, Dino Piana on trombone, Renato Sellani on piano, G. Crovetto or Giorgio Azzolini on bass, and Lionello Bionda on drums. Of the group, it is Basso and Sellani who went on to brilliant and very long and distinguished careers.  The CD clearly features songs based on the Jazz Messengers model, as heard at the outset on the opener "Before Ten O'Clock"; and on Horace Silver with some more afro-cuban rhythms like "Look Out" or Guernica"; but it also features many ballads and blues that are clearly original to the band and very nicely played. A lot of potential at an early point in his career, as well as in the career of Sellani, who has some nice solos as well. Nice disc but not essential.

Jumping ahead to 1981, we have a set of four tunes played by Basso and a piano trio as part of the Swiss Radio Days series, which was released as "Swiss Radio Days Volume 24 Gianni Basso and Guy Lafitte" (The Montreux Jazz Label 2010). Lafitte also plays four tunes so there are eight in all on the disc. Basso plays with his lush and rounded sound, and in particular shines on "Groovin' High" and "Lush Life." Again, nice but not essential.

Cojazz - All Those Melodies CD Cover ArtA jump now to 1999 and a really nice disc, "All Those Melodies" (The Montreux Label 1999) again with Basso leading a piano trio. Basso was 68 at the time and his sound, dynamics, expression, and improvisation was peaking. Beautiful renderings of a range of classics like "I'll Walk Alone", "What a Difference a Day Made" and "That Old Feeling" simply bring out the best in Basso as he recaptures the golden sounds of the great tenors of the 50s. This one is worth having if you like solid standards play by a classic sounding tenorman. This is also the disc Adam introduced me to Basso with, and it was a worthy introduction.

Basso hits his stride from 1999 until his passing in 2009, as demonstrated on the next seven recordings.

The next recording is brilliant -- "Two for the Cities" (Philology 2001) and why not -- it is a tenor sax and piano duo of Basso with Renato Sellani, another giant in the Italian jazz pantheon. And of course, one of my favorite settings that I beleive brings out the best in both players. The "gimmick" is that each song is named for a city, so we get glorious renditions of "Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans", "A Foggy Day in London Town" and "Autumn in New York" played to the highest standard possible, along with a number of originals and songs by Italian composers. Just great -- nuanced, expressive music by two pros and timeless music. A surefire winner here to listen to.

Isn't It RomanticSince the previous disc was so good, Sellani and Basso do it again on "Isn't It Romantic" (Philology 2001) with the same results -- a beautiful album played by two masters. This time all twelve songs are classics, from "Nancy With the Laughing Face" to open, to "I Remember Clifford" as the closer. In between are great pairings on "I'll Remember April", Body and Soul", the title song, and "Over the Rainbow" that could make you cry tears of happiness. A glass of wine, a companion, and this is heaven. Only the art on the cover is lousy!

"Blue Woods" (Philology 2002) followed the next year, and takes a different tack, with a quartet of Basso, Andrea Pozza on piano, Luciano Milanese on bass, and Stefano Bagnoli on drums. Enrico Rava makes it a quintet on the finale "Blue Woods", which is earlier played as a quartet. This is the music of Phil Woods as composer, but in Basso's hands the tenor sax changes the dynamics of the pieces, providing a richer tone and deeper voice. Basso caresses the opening ballad "Song for Sass" with the lyricism and sound of the late Ben Webster, the solos on a brisk "Where Do You Go From Here". "Without You" is a lovely and gentle bossa nova. And on it goes -- "The Last Page" suggests Stan Getz,  "Lady J" is a ballad played as a bossa nova, and  "Blue Woods is a stunning blues both with and without Rava. This is a great salute from Basso to Woods.  

Gianni Basso Quartet Meets Enrico Rava: Tea For TwoIn 2003 Basso returned to Renato Sellani, this time with Massimo Moriconi on bass and Massimo Manzi on drums, and the result is "I Wish I Knew" (Philology 2007). This is mostly a set of ballads from the Great American Songbook, with Basso's lush tenor complemented beautifully by Sellani's flawless touch. The two are old pals and show it on this CD as they play back and forth with the melodies, harmonies and improvisations without a pause or hitch. "I'll Be Seeing You" is a gorgeous solo outing for Basso, while Sellani lead in to "The Man I Love" which then opens into a swinging rendition. Basso's round and mellow tone is reminiscient once again of the great Ben Webster. Another highlight for Basso.

When the Basso Quartet, with Andrea Pozza, Luciano Milanese, and Stefano Bagnoli meet Enrico Rava, on "Tea for Two" (Philology 2003) sparks fly, fireworks go off, and the result is magnificent. This is the definition of five stars. The set again features standards and include a lovely take of "Bye, Bye Blackbird," a lush and relaxed "All the Things You Are", and an equally relaxed "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" A gem.

The last recordings of Basso are Japanese imports. The first is "Body and Soul" (Venus Records 2008) and is one more duet with Renato Sellani featuring standards. It is a very nice disc and worthy of a collection but is also somewhat duplicative of the earlier Philology recordings. The second, however, is more unusaul, and find Basso teaming with guitarist Irio de Paula on "Recado Bossa Nova" (Pony Canyon 2009). As noted on earlier recordings Basso had included bossa nova and other latin beats, going all the way back to the "Exciting 6" disc in 1967. Here he teams with a guitarist and piano trio, and delivers a set of delightful, charming latin grooves by Antonio Jobim, Sergio Mendes, Kenny Dorham and others. A charming highlight is a bossa rendition of "It Might As Well Be Spring," but it is all great. Bosso's mellow sound blends perfectly with the group and the mood of the songs, and the result is a winner.

So there it is -- ten discs by a marvelous tenor sax player whose influence is felt strongly by the next generation in Italy -- and hopefully enough background to inspire one to go out and listen to his music. For those who love the old Blue Note sound, who loved Ben Webster or Dexter Gordon or Stan Getz, for those like me who love the sax/piano pairing, you really owe youself to listen.

Italian jazz is going to amaze you as we move forward in these posts.

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!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Get to Know the Italians

When I began this blog one of my objectives was to introduce players who somehow have stayed below the radar. Some might be new players to the scene, others might be on small labels with low promotional budgets, and some may perform infrequently or in a limited area. Some may just get overlooked despite a long record of accomplishment, a la Jessica Williams who I wrote about yesterday. And many are foreign players who just do not seem to get the amount of press given to Americans unless they are on a  major label (ECM, CamJazz, ACT seem to lead in that category), and even then they are generally less widely known because they appear less frequently in the U.S. or are reviewed less frequently in "Downbeat" or "Jazz Times" than their U.S. counterparts.

I previously posted on jazz players from the U.K., and have also written individual reviews of a great many recordings from the U.K. Beginning with this post, I intend to do the same for the Italians, who are extremely well represnted in my collection. I love all things Italian. The food is delicious, the art magnificent, the wine glorious, the country beautiful, and the language resonant. Words like "Montepulciano" and "Cinque Terre" roll off the tongue, "Chianti" brings images of Tuscany, "Barbera d'Asti" of the Piedmont, and all of it brings images of  platters of fine foods. Prosciutto and melone, cannoli,  chianti, gnocchi...I could go on for a while like this.
Italy for me is a lyrical place of great beauty, and the music of its leading jazz players follows suit. I have a substantial collection of Italian jazz, and it is almost exclusively full of richly melodic, lyrical, and captivating recordings. The Italian musical heritage of Puccini, Verdi, Rossini et al is one of glorious melodies and opera, and I believe the Italian ear was trained for that same type of music in its jazz heritage, amplified by the music brought by  touring Americans of the 40s and 50s like Chet Baker and others, and of ex-pats like Dexter Gordon and others. In the tones of Rava and Fresu I hear the echoes of Baker; in the rounded tones of Basso I hear the sounds of Gordon and Getz; and in the  pianism of Pieranunzi, Sellani, Rea and others I hear the lush harmonies of pianists like Evans or Tyner as well as of the other instrumentalists.

Today's players of course are expanding the pallette and bringing in more modern sounds, along with electronics, and the heritage of other musical traditions; but for me, the jazz music of Italy is captured by the older masters and their disciples, some of whom are the young lions on the scene carrying on the traditonal sounds and some of whom are expanding the boundaries of Italian jazz.

Over  the next several weeks or even months, I am going to spotlight the leaders who populate my collection of Italian jazz. To begin the effort I pulled from my shelves as many of my CDs as I could find. My collection is neither alphabetized nor in any other way highly organized (someday.....), and I expect that as of today I have forgotten somebody. If so, please send me a comment on who I may have missed in the list below.  

Without further ado, and organized by instrument, I will be commenting on the following players:

  • Enrico Pieranunzi (pictured on top right)
  • Franco D'Andrea
  • Renato Sellani (to the right)
  • Danilo Rea
  • Stefano Bollani
  • Roberto Tarenzi 
  • Antonio Farao
  • Franco Cerri 
  • Giovanni Mirabassi  
  • Salvatore Bonafede
  • Luigi Bonafede 
  • Roberto Magris
  • Giovanni Guidi
  • Stefano Battaglia
  • Gambarini, Roberta - You Are There CD Cover ArtDado Moroni
  • Rosario Giuliani
  • Massimo Urbani
  • Pietro Tonolo
  • Francesco Cafiso
  • Gianni Basso (above, left)
  • Stefano diBatista 
  • Roberto Gatto
  • Giovanni Tomasso
  • Enzo Pietropaoli
  • Enrico Rava
  • Paolo Fresu
  • Marco Tamburini
  • Fabrizio Bosso

  • Roberta Gambarini (right

  • Doctors Three
  • High Five

My first post, coming soon, with be about Enrico Pieranunzi who I consider the Dean of Italian pianists and, for that matter, of Italian jazz, along with other towering figures like Renato Sellani, Franco D'Andrea, and Gianni Basso.