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06/28/12

Enrico Pieranunzi
Permutation
CAM Jazz

Many jazz musicians continuously reinvent themselves, and it creates challenges for their fans. Think Miles Davis. Every time he created a new style he built a new fan base. And every time he moved on, they felt abandoned.

Enrico Pieranunzi has a new trio with a world-class bassist, Scott Colley, and the most talented jazz drummer of his generation, Antonio Sanchez. Based on the band’s new album, Permutation, it is instantly one of the strongest piano trios in jazz. But those of us who loved Pieranunzi’s previous trio now mourn its passing.

In the first decade of the new millennium, Pieranunzi, bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joey Baron made a series of magical albums for CAM Jazz. They were gifted at choosing and reinterpreting great repertoire, especially ballads. The creative aggression of Colley and Sanchez pushes Pieranunzi in a different direction. His new trio is much less kind and gentle. It is harder and faster than its predecessor, and plays Pieranunzi originals exclusively. Some start simply but all quickly become complex, with intersecting motifs (“The Point at Issue”) and themes that sweep and recur like crashing waves (“Critical Path”). The title track begins with a bass vamp, blocks of piano melody and vast details of meaningful percussive energy from Sanchez. Then it accelerates as it transforms. These three players have lightning reflexes. They inspire and incite one another.

There are two rapt, intense ballads, “Distance From Departure” and “Within the House of Night.” They are deeply in touch with the domain of Pieranunzi’s spiritual forefather, Bill Evans. Like Evans, Pieranunzi unveils previously hidden human emotion in twilight harmonies and long unraveling lines that make sudden turns into piercing lyricism. But this new trio mostly chooses virtuosity and firepower over poetry. No doubt we will miss it when Pieranunzi moves on.

Originally published in June 2012
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