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Enrico Pieranunzi: Fellini Jazz

Federico Fellini made cinematic masterpieces like La Dolce Vita and La Strada, but who remembers 50-year-old movie soundtracks anymore?

Enrico Pieranunzi remembers. In fact, anyone who has ever seen a Fellini film has Fellini imagery embedded in memory, and the medium of recovery is the music of Nino Rota, Fellini’s musical collaborator for 29 years. It is a paradox: Fellini’s visual imagery, with its clowns and freaks and obese dancing whores, is often grotesque. But the scores of Nino Rota are the opposite, gentle and melodic and whimsical. It is the music in Fellini films that carries their deepest themes of nostalgia and mystery and forlorn hope.

Pianist and arranger Pieranunzi has assembled a true all-star band to interpret Rota’s scores: Chris Potter (tenor and soprano saxophones), Kenny Wheeler (trumpet and flugelhorn), Charlie Haden (bass) and Paul Motian (drums). What is most remarkable about Pieranunzi’s project is how persuasively such strong individual voices become immersed in a time, culture and art form that is external to them.

Nino Rota will be remembered in popular cultural history as the composer of scores for Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. But he produced his greatest work for Fellini. His melodies like those for Amarcord and La Strada possess an aching yet ironic bittersweetness-and who better to explore bittersweetness than Wheeler, with his softly keening, inward brass singing? Who better than Haden, whose bass solos always darkly reverberate in yearning and poignancy? As for Chris Potter, he was born long after Federico Fellini began to define the conflicts of modernity, but he has never sounded more confident and fully engaged. On pieces like the two movements of La Dolce Vita, he delves deep into Fellini’s spiritual landscape, making it his own with eloquence and clarity.

Fellini Jazz is highly recommended, both for its bold imaginative concept and its world-class execution.

Originally Published