Italian pianist, composer, and arranger Enrico Pieranunzi has done something delightful and enlightening on Fellini Jazz: he has gathered together some of the brightest lights in American jazz -- all of whom who have a serious affinity for European music -- and formed a quintet for creatively interpreting theme music from the director's films. While most of the themes here were composed by Nino Rota, there are two original pieces that extrapolate from various melodic and harmonic schema in Rota's work. All of the music here, with the exception of the themes from Amarcord and City of Women (the latter composed by Luis Bacalov), comes from Fellini's films of the 1950s. There is a reason for this. The musical element in Rota's scores from these films was, at the very least, informed by the spirit of jazz. Using the great American musicians who came of age during the great Yankee discovery of Fellini's movies is a brilliant touch, as they become "actors" themselves in this musical drama. Not being Italian, and not being regular players of Rota's scores, they look at Pieranunzi's adaptations with a non-literal, gauzy, nearly surrealist view. And while some would argue that Pieranunzi is not on the same level musically with his collaborators as a pianist, and perhaps someone like Brad Mehldau or Fred Hersch might have been a better choice, they'd be wrong. Pieranunzi -- specifically because he brings the great Italian jazz tradition, with its deep reliance on lyricism and harmonic interplay, to the mix -- is the only player who could have pulled off the gig. This is a beautifully, movingly wrought album that is indeed a jazz date first, but one that is also not so far removed from the music of Fellini's cinema because of its reliance on impression, subtlety, grace, warm humor, and, of course, elegance. Two sets of liner notes accompany the set, one by Pieranunzi about the session and one from Ira Gitler about the films and Pieranunzi. Fantastic and breathtaking.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek