NEW VISIONS / PIERANUNZI: Free Visions. Night Waltz. Anne Blomster Sang. You Know. Free Visions 2. Free Visions 3. Alt kan ske (More Valentines). Free Visions 4. Brown Fields. Dreams and the Morning. One for Ulysses. Orphanes / Enrico Pieranunzi, pno; Thomas Fonnesbæk, bs; Ulysses Owens Jr., dm / Storyville SVL1018483
The story behind this recording began in the summer of 2018 when Enrico Pieranunzi played with Ulysses Owens, Jr. for the first time: two awesome concerts during the Copenhagen Jazz Festival that cast a breathtaking spell over the audience.
For me, the deciding factor in whether or not to review this disc was the presence of bassist Thomas Fonnesbæk. In my reviews of his previous CDs, Synesthesia and Sharing, I marveled at Fonnsebæk’s inventive and unique method of playing jazz bass: “He’s lyrical, inventive, and percussive all at the same time. He can act as a ground bass, lead voice, or alternative soloist at any given moment—sometimes, perhaps performing two of those roles simultaneously. He tends to stay a lot in the upper range of his instrument, which generally makes it sound more like a cello than a bass, and he has absolutely no fear. He’ll go anywhere and do whatever is necessary to perform what he wants to say.”
Thus I was looking forward to this collaboration, and I was not disappointed. Fonnesbæk’s unusual, percussive bass introduces the first track, Free Visions, a funky number in which Pieranunzi plays his gentle-but-inventive piano over the bassist’s strong attack. Interestingly, the pianist seems to be filling in over the bassist’s lines, adding commentary rather than trying to compete with the latter’s busy playing, and this is wise. Fonnesbæk says so much on his bass that trying to compete with him would be as foolish as a horn player trying to outmaneuver Art Tatum in a duet with that great pianist.
The problem, as I heard it, is that in the first two tracks Pieranunzi remains lyrical This is fine as far as it goes, but to my ears he doesn’t complement the bassist as well as Justin Kauflin, Fonnesbæk’s regular pianist. Too often in these tracks, Pieranunzi comes across like a lounge pianist, which he clearly is not. The pianist and his drummer, Ulysses Owens Jr., work hand-in-glove, but the bassist’s brilliance tends to overshadow them. As a prime example, listen to Fonnesbæk’s solo in Anne Blomster Sang, which is absolutely brilliant. Fortunately, in this track, Pieranunzi finally opens up his style, becomes busier and more inventive, and contributes mightily to its success. In You Know the lyricism returns, but this time the bassist underplays his part a bit, blending into the soft jazz setting rather than trying to enliven it. (In case you haven’t realized it by now, I am an opponent of most soft or lounge jazz. To me that’s just background filler for talking and drinking, not music to listen to.)
Free Visions 2 is another uptempo swinger, and here, too, the pianist and bassist complement each other well, the latter engaging in some “walking” to propel a fine solo by Pieranunzi. In Free Visions 3, the tempo relaxes to the point of not having a definable pulse while the three musicians play various phrases (and drumbeats) to kind of keep the piece going. Eventually, however, the tempo increases to a fast pace and the trio flies to the finish line with Pieranunzi playing rising chromatic chords in the left hand.
Alt kan ske begins with the pianist playing odd, rising figures before the bassist comes subtly in behind him, then the drums for another swinging piece. This one is a true three-way conversation, with Pieranunzi finally figuring out how to dovetail his playing with Fonnesbæk’s. The latter’s solo is brilliant, however, and brings the whole number into focus. On Free Visions 4, the pianist and bassist almost begin as if they were going to go into a Bach invention but quickly change their mind, reaching for more abstract forms built around a circular chromatic figure played in Pieranunzi’s left hand. Yet this, too, increases in tempo to an almost blistering pace before slowing down once again for some piano ruminations.
Brown Fields features Fonnesbæk’s percussive bass at its best, pushing and prodding the trio to some of its most interesting and pointillistic playing. The bass solo on this track is just extraordinary, possibly the finest thing on the entire album. Pieranunzi does his best to compete, but the bassist is just too much for him here.
Dreams and the Morning is a nice, relaxed piece in 4 with a pleasant melodic line while One for Ulysses opens dramatically with the drums, after which piano and bass fall into a hard-driving piece with a slight New Orleans-style beat. Fonnesbæk’s solo is hard-driving and bluesy.
In the last track, Orphanes, Fonnesbæk plays softly but forcibly in the background and even takes the melody of this quick little Parisian-styled waltz. The pianist-leader picks it up from there, and things go very well indeed. The bass solo here is yet another gem, and Pieranunzi is able to pick up the pieces in his own solo. Later on in the track, there’s a brief chase chorus between them and this, too, is quite good.
Although I felt rather lukewarm about the three or four lounge-styled pieces here, this album is overall a fine one, showing how Fonnesbæk can enliven almost any jazz situation.
—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley
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