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Enrico Pieranunzi Quartet: New Spring: Live at the Village Vanguard

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Of Italy’s great piano players, Enrico Pieranunzi is the most transatlantic. Stefano Bollani, Danilo Rea and Giovanni Guidi collaborate mostly with other Europeans. Pieranunzi hires North Americans. His most enduring trio included Marc Johnson and Joey Baron. Paul Motian, Charlie Haden, Jim Hall, Chris Potter and Kenny Wheeler have been among his sidemen. The quartet on New Spring has tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Clarence Penn. It is Pieranunzi’s second album recorded at the Village Vanguard. No other Italian has made an album as a leader there.

It is hard-core live jazz, with long tracks and more bass and drum solos than any previous Pieranunzi recording. Colley and Penn seize their moments; they are both articulate storytellers. McCaslin is a saxophonist who gives everything he has to every song. What sets New Spring apart from so many other fine small-group Vanguard recordings is how it blends American edge and intensity with Italian romanticism and elegance. This music occurs in the context of Pieranunzi’s overarching lyricism. His compositions (new ones like “Amsterdam Avenue” and earlier ones like “The Waver”) are graceful, finished forms. McCaslin clearly respects them and traces their inevitable melodies with measured care. But on “Amsterdam Avenue” he breaks out into quick runs of gathering urgency. His lines on “The Waver” are like long, swerving glides, but then he careens into cries and upheavals, then subsides back into the original rapt atmosphere.

As for Pieranunzi the improvising soloist, every time he ascends from the ensemble he writes a fresh new song within the song. Beauty exerts a gravitational pull on him. Even inside his fast, hard pieces, like the title track, a ballad lurks. When he plays an actual ballad, like “Loveward,” a hovering call-and-response, its claim on the heart is complete.

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