Enrico Pieranunzi with Marc Johnson and Paul Motian at the Village Vanguard
A call and response set up within the trio for Thad Jones' "A Child is Born," with Motian answering Pieranunzi's sparse but intricate leading lines with a sharp ratata-tatat. Pieranunzi paused then to explain that the next tune, "Sharp Humor," was so named because of its very "uncomfortable" key of F sharp.
"I don't know why I write it in this key," Pieranunzi said, grinning as he glanced towards Motian and Johnson. "To make life interesting, I guess." With only a brief pause, they launched into the up-tempo melody, an aggressive and at times dizzying tune that was sounded every bit as challenging as Pieranunzi had described. At times, the tune veered towards an orchestrated chaos, with Motian accenting the Pieranunzi's frantic arpeggios and dissonant harmonies with cymbal hits, like the thunder after heat lightning.
The craziness escalated with a spectacular series of virtuoso trading. Pieranunzi, whose tremendous technique had been on display all night, employed in an almost Cecil Taylor-ian way, a soup of rhythmic craziness that Motian fed off and fed into. For a near octagenerian, he never seemed to want to quit. And though the band clearly pushed themselves to the limits, each trade was incredibly tight, well-orchestrated.
After that, a mellow standard like "These Foolish Things" seemed slightly surreal, a feeling that was only heightened when, after the song had ended, Johnson took a moment to find his bow to transition into the next song. Once he found it though, Pieranunzi liked the arco sound so much that he backtracked, returning to the sweet melody of "A cigarette that bears lipstick traces" for one more chorus. His sound returned to its romantic classical roots, touching the lyricism in the lines, before launching into a cooking "Straight No Chaser" to close out the night in magnificent formPieranunzi driving Motian and Johnson on by popping off a high or low octave note.
After much applause, the trio returned for one more encore, a complex sounding tune that provided a chance for the bass to shine. Johnson brought a measure of peace to cool off the night, wringing out soothing, almost guitar-like tones. After so much heartfelt playing, the last few notes were soft, soothing, a wonderful middle ground in the eclectic territory carved out in the Vanguard. At well over two and a half hours of astonishing music, it was a moment to exhale in appreciation of the cool, with the heat outside and the music in.