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Jazz Album Evaluate: “Blues & Bach: The Music of John Lewis” — A Exceptional Accomplishment

By Michael Ullman

MJQ pianist John Lewis would have beloved to have had an orchestra this effectively rehearsed and recorded so superbly.

Enrico Pieranunzi Trio and Orchestra, Blues & Bach: The Music of John Lewis. Luca Bulgarielli, bass; Mauro Beggio, drums; Michele Corcella, cond. arr. (Problem Data)

Jazz pianist Enrico Pieranunzi was born in Rome 73 years in the past. He has wide-ranging (typically Italianate) pursuits. He made his first recording as a frontrunner in 1975. Within the almost fifty years since he has recorded with Chet Baker (twice), Lee Konitz, Artwork Farmer, Kenny Wheeler, and Charlie Haden, all musicians rightly recognized for his or her lyrical qualities. He recorded the intimate sounding Duologues with guitarist Jim Corridor, and has for many years led one model or one other of his trio. Pieranunzi has an curiosity in movie: he performed on varied recordings by the nice movie composer Enrico Morricone. With Marc Johnson and Joey Baron, he launched two tribute albums to the Morricone, Play Morricone 1 and a pair of, in addition to Fellini Jazz with an all-star group that includes Kenny Wheeler, Chris Potter, Charlie Haden, and Paul Motian.

His new venture could be very totally different. On Blues and Bach: The Music of John Lewis, Pieranunzi pays tribute to the long-time chief of the Trendy Jazz Quartet. Looking back, Lewis and Pieranunzi would appear to be a pure pair. Just like the Italian, pianist John Lewis had wide-ranging tastes and ambitions. He wrote chamber items, the movie scores to Odds In opposition to Tomorrow and No Solar in Venice, and a tribute to Kurt Weill. Lewis was additionally fascinated by Bach. One hears that fascination not directly in his varied fugues by him and, certainly, within the generally interweaving improvisations by Lewis and the sensible vibist within the Trendy Jazz Quartet, Milt Jackson. (The MJQ bassist Percy Heath as soon as instructed me that he performed behind Jackson for 35 years and each evening Jackson did one thing that stunned him.) Lewis recorded three albums based mostly on Bach’s Effectively-Tempered Clavier. They’re fascinating workout routines however considerably irritating for bebop followers: Lewis can barely tear himself away from what Bach wrote to introduce his personal improvisations and slightly little bit of swing. Nonetheless, Pieranunzi’s title, Bach and Bluesis slightly deceptive: there are not any Bach items right here.

The recording begins with Lewis’s gently uplifting waltz “Skating in Central Park” from the movie rating Odds In opposition to Tomorrow. Launched in 1959, this at instances brutal movie facilities on a trio of ne’er-do-wells, together with Harry Belafonte, who fail at a financial institution theft. Belafonte and his racist colleague battle all through their partnership; ultimately they’re blown up collectively, rendering their corpses indistinguishable. Which is the purpose, to the extent that this movie has some extent. Lewis’ “Skating in Central Park” provides a healthful break within the motion. Within the composer’s model of “Skating,” additionally for orchestra, we hear a flute floating above the ensemble. There are solo elements for Jackson in addition to for a prominently recorded Heath. That session was recorded in July 1959: a Trendy Jazz Quartet model adopted in October of that 12 months. Pieranunzi’s tackle “Skating” is extra relaxed, with much less insistence on the waltz rhythm, The orchestra states the melody warmly, progressively constructing to Pieranunzi’s entrance together with his model of Lewis’ melody over bass and patter of brushes on drums. (The orchestra returns for the second A bit.)

Lewis would have beloved to have had an orchestra this effectively rehearsed and recorded so superbly. The preparations are by Michele Corcella, who deserves equal credit score with the musicians for the success of Bach and Blues. His site tells us that he graduated in “Musical Research” from the College of Bologna the place he wrote a thesis on the music of Duke Ellington. He lectures on Ellington and on Gil Evans and teaches jazz composition on the Conservatorio Antonio Buzzolla di Adria. The orchestral elements he has written are sometimes lush, typically full of life, and inevitably idiomatic. His writing of him has its share of surprises: the melody of “Spanish Steps,” as an example, it’s acknowledged by the strings with a bassoon offering a type of obbligato. (The piece was recorded by Lewis on The Golden Striker in 1960 and subsequently by the MJQ for the 1962 file The Comedy.)

Pianist Enrico Pieranunzi on the Village Vanguard in 2015. Picture: courtesy of the artist.

Lewis performed exactly, his cleanly articulated strains constructing their very own type of stress. Pieranunzi is a extra exuberant, excellent participant, a minimum of on these works. One can hear their distinction plainly within the typically recorded Lewis piece “Vendome.” Lewis recorded “Vendome” repeatedly, together with on an album with the Beaux Arts String Quartet. The prolonged orchestral introduction for Pieranunzi’s tackle the tune is a lighthearted delight. When his flip comes round, the pianist enters dramatically. He’s desirous to exclaim, not merely state, Lewis’ melody. His vigor has been anticipated; the orchestral elements are equally enlivened behind him.

Lewis’s most well-known composition is “Django,” his tribute to guitarist Django Reinhardt. It has been recorded over 300 instances, together with by such jazz luminaries as Invoice Evans, Tommy Flanagan, and Charlie Haden. Lewis’ personal variations exemplify his compositional method: the written sections are superbly executed however the launch, when Jackson is all of a sudden allowed to solo by way of an expansive 4/4, is greater than welcome. In his model of him, Pieranunzi appears to need to flip the piece right into a blues. In the meantime, his bassist pays tribute to MJQ bassist Heath by at instances reproducing the latter’s background strains. The one non-Lewis composition on the album is “Autumn in New York,” which the MJQ recorded for Status in 1953. Pieranunzi introduces the Vernon Duke normal alone and with rhapsodic aptitude. He takes a full refrain earlier than the orchestra bursts in like a bunch of excited visitors at a celebration.

Much less acquainted is the Lewis composition “Milano,” recorded by the MJQ for Status in December of 1954. On that preliminary recording, Jackson performs the melody merely, with single notes and with no swing feeling. (With lyrics added, the piece was sung by Chris Connor on Free Spirits.) Corcella chooses a extra oblique strategy, prefaced by an prolonged introduction. Pieranunzi states the melody with uncharacteristic gentleness, at instances taking part in over pizzicato strings to which he defends. The album ends with “The Jasmine Tree.” Lewis and Jackson interact in a twin improvisation at first of the unique recording. (Is that this the Bach reference?) Then Jackson takes command on this uptempo model with drummer Connie Kay taking part in bells behind him. In the meantime, Heath performs an obsessive pedal tone all through. It is an odd impact. Pieranunzi’s model begins with a drum solo, after which the trio improvises roughly out of a hard and fast tempo. To those that know the unique, this model can be a shock — however a welcome one. The trio falls into a gentle swinging rhythm and when the orchestra joins in enthusiastically the observe turns into an uptempo romp. All through Blues & Bach: The Music of John Lewis, Carcella has provide you with colourful orchestral elements which might be effectively built-in with the trio. And, when known as for, all people swings. It is a outstanding accomplishment. Particular kudos to the unnamed bassoonist.


Michael Ulman studied classical clarinet and was educated at Harvard, the College of Chicago, and the U. of Michigan, from which he obtained a PhD in English. The creator or co-author of two books on jazz, he has written on jazz and classical music for the Atlantic Month-to-month, New Republic, Excessive Constancy, stereophile, boston phoenix, boston globe, and different venues. His articles on Dickens, Joyce, Kipling, and others have appeared in educational journals. For over 20 years, he has written a bi-monthly jazz column for Fanfare Journal, for which he additionally evaluations classical music. At Tufts College, he teaches principally modernist writers within the English Division and jazz and blues historical past within the Music Division. He performs piano badly.

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