Enrico Pieranunzi Trio at the Ronnie Scott’s International Piano Trio Festival

Can this really have been Enrico Pieranunzi’s first appearance at Ronnie Scott’s? The Italian pianist has been a towering figure in European jazz for 40 years. He worked with Chet Baker back in the day, recorded a live album at the Village Vanguard in July 2010 with regular collaborator Marc Johnson and legendary drummer Paul Motian, and is a performer whose touch at the piano and melodic and decorative flourishes are utterly distinctive signatures. 

Much of his work and recording has been with trios, so the club’s now annual International Piano Trio Festival was a fitting occasion for the debut. (I heard the first two of the three trios appearing on Thursday, the fourth night - John Crawford's trio played the late set.)

Pieranunzi's current trio with Dutchman Jasper Somsen on bass and veteran French drummer André Ceccarelli eased into a gentle latin groove in Come Rose Dai Muri to launch the set. A typically hummable Pieranunzi melody floated over the subtly shifting harmony. Glancing grace notes and angular descending routes through scales wove a path between wistfulness and unbridled exuberance. Their performance ebbed and flowed either side of that line reaching a boiling climax with Pieranunzi’s own Tales from the unexpected and The Surprise Answer. He has knack for ear-tweaking melodic lines, often developed over an extended written form, interspersed with rhythmic feints. Improvisations exploded in cascades of notes and then distilled into two-fisted percussive duelling with a responsive and explosive Ceccarelli behind the kit. 

It was a dramatic finale after plenty of demonstrations of a more reflective and romantic side. Blue Waltz, one of several pieces in three, a favoured time signature it seems, had an unashamedly filmic quality to it. BYOH’s flowing lines and even quavers hinted at neo-romantic sources and showcased Somsen’s facility and melodic fluency on a singing bass solo. I’m sure I heard someone whistling the melody of Tales from the unexpected as we left, a tribute to the power of the writing. This was joyous, uninhibited music making, punctuated by engaging, shoulder shrugging and occasionally hilariously divergent announcing from Pieranunzi. It may have been a first visit, it surely won’t be the last. 

August 19, 2016   LondonJazzNews Mike Collins