In an already crowded field of great contemporary Jazz pianists, the Italian Enrico Pieranunzi is a stand out. He is regarded as one of the best Jazz pianists in Europe (and beyond) and his career has been on a steady upwards trajectory for decades. American and UK reviewers have mentioned him in the same breath as Evans and Jarrett, but his stylistic range probably encompasses a broader scope than either of the above. He is an adventurous musician who will frequently take himself outside of his comfort zone and then return effortlessly to the achingly beautiful melodic tunes that are his mainstay. His long-standing trio with Marc Johnson (bass) and Joey Baron (drums) is well-known, but a number of other trio, duo and quartet configurations work equally well. Like many great musicians he has an uncanny knack for locating top quality sidemen and he gives them ample room to breathe on their own. While I love his trio work with Baron and Johnson – who wouldn’t like those two – my personal favourite is the ‘Live in Paris’ trio. That all European trio comprises of Andre Ceccarelli (drums) and Hein Van de Geyn (bass); who are simply astonishing on this recording. The three work as if with one mind as they stretch time and rework standards and Pieranunzi tunes in ways that defy belief.
When Pieranunzi first became known outside of Italy his playing was often described as Evans influenced and at the time that seemed a fair assessment. After listening to his considerable discography I am not so sure, as some of his early work gives a nod to McCoy Tyner and even Hancock. There is little of Evans in his early recordings with Chet Baker or Art Farmer and by the time he had recorded his first album with Charlie Haden he was uniquely Pieranunzi. His energy and innovation seem boundless and for the last decade and a half he has been recording in a variety of settings. His recent ‘Domenico Scarlatti‘ album is a case in point. He plays the baroque master with fluency and yet with a subtle improvisational edge. He manages to make the rendition sound both ultra modern and yet true to the traditional improvisational mores of the day. Only a very skilled Jazz musician could pull this off so well.
If I were to recommend albums I would have to start with the magnificent double album ‘Live in Paris’ (Pieranunzi, Hein Van de Geyn, Andre Ceccarelli) – Challenge label. Also the double album ‘Live in Japan‘ or ‘Ballads‘ (Pieranunzi, Marc Johnson, Joey Baron) – Camjazz. Other gems are his recent duo album with Marc Johnson and ‘Alone Together’ , a quartet with the stellar line up of Philip Catherine (g), Hein Van de Geyn (b) Joe La Barbera (d) – Challenge. Two recent albums where he is not the leader are also well worth the effort; ‘Oslo‘ with Terje Gewelt, Anders Kjellberg – Resonant Music and ‘The Kingdom (where nobody dies)‘ Mads Vinding (b), Alex Riel (d). They can be purchased on iTunes for around $18 each if you are impatient to own copies. Amazon also holds a good range of Pieranunzi albums but when they occasionally run out of stock the second-hand albums often fetch huge prices until a reprinting of new stock occurs. These are popular albums.