Album reviews

Enrico Pieranunzi Trio and Orchestra- ‘Blues & Bach – The Music of John Lewis’

Enrico Pieranunzi Trio and Orchestra- Blues & Bach – The Music of John Lewis

(Challenge Records- CR73550. Album review by Frank Griffith)

Enrico Pieranunzi, a standout Italian pianist has just released a beautifully realised recording to add to his large output of work boasting eighty recordings. The CD includes seven John Lewis pieces, handled deftly by the trio which includes Luca Bulgarelli, bass and drummer Mauro Baggio. The ten piece Orchestra Filharmonica Italiana is integrally woven into the proceedings arranged and conducted by Michele Corcella.

John Lewis – the pianist and creator of The Modern Jazz Quartet which was formed in in 1952 continuing through to the 1980s – succeeded in blending the divergent art forms of bebop and post bop jazz with classical music, and in particular  Bach themes and the general area of Baroque ornamentation. The arrangements of Michele Corcella deserve equal credit as the orchestral writing is lush, often lively and deeply idiomatic to Lewis’ compositions inspiring the best results from Pieranunzi’s trio.

The airy and buoyant backings are indelibly organic to the point that they were tailor made for the pieces- all of which were written, performed and recorded well over fifty years ago. A highly respected and sought after composer/arranger, Corcella, has collaborated with the likes of Dave Liebman, Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, Steve Swallow and The WDR Big Band. He is  also an Ellington scholar, and integrates this influence into the project adding further depth and bluesy breadth. This serves to facilitate the highly swinging interaction of the trio as they unfurl their improvisations.

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Lewis classics like Django, Vendome, Concorde, Milano and Skating In Central Park (from the 1959 film Odds Against Tomorrow,-Harry Belafonte’s first major screen role) grace the repertoire with variety and dignity. A lesser known gem, Jasmine Tree (recorded by MJQ in 1968) is happily included to give it the note that it deserves.

Pieranunzi has performed and recorded with an impressive roster of jazz legends like Chet Baker, Lee Konitz, Charlie Haden, Marc Johnson and British vocalist, the much-missed Tina May. This immense breadth, range and openness is a Pieranunzi hallmark. And his superb way of creating a varied and subtle mix of repertoire stands out here, in the way he and his trio have approached the task of embracing and living the music of John Lewis.

On Blues and Bach, Pieranunzi writes-“We wish to pay tribute to John Lewis’s tunes which have been reworked and orchestrated for the occasion with an ensemble that is itself a crossover within a crossover (jazz trio plus string quartet and woodwind quintet)”

John Lewis’s ambition, both metaphorically and literally was to achieve a synthesis of blues and Bach.  The blendings were largely successful and Pieranunzi’s and Corcella’s realisations are similarly successful. A modern day nod and testimonial to this great  fusion of musical traditions. Blues and Bach…..the talk and the walk.

LiNK: Enrico Pieranunzi at Proper Music

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