Ensemble Ainulindale

Middle Earth

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For those who don't yet know, pianist and composer Andrea Pellegrini is one of Italy's brightest shining musical lights. His compositions have been performed by jazz orchestras the world over. He has also been commissioned by symphony orchestras to compose original works and he remains a pianist of the highest order. This set, all inspired by the works of both J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings trilogy and the mythology of elves -- hence an 112-piece band for the project -- is his most ambitious project to date and walks through all musical worlds to arrive at a crossroads where 20th century vanguard European music meets the improvisation and swing of jazz and the dynamics of film and theater music. One cannot stress enough how adventurous this music is, with its many legs planted in as many seas. In "One for Tristan," a serialist theme gives way to a series of bop and post-bop solos on piano, oboe (courtesy of Oregon architect Paul McCandless), flutes, strings, and tenor saxophone, all as dissonant percussion falls around the band's ears before it returns to its erstwhile origins and fades. On the "Suite Tolkeinana," a six-part work comprising the majority of the album, Pellegrini creates a series of orchestral colors, intricate solos, ensemble counterpoint, and timbral adventures for each section, and creates a series of cadenzas that are echoed in the thunderous crescendos that signify the end of each section until the finale, "Chiara Stasera," which is, in itself, a crescendo that restates all five themes in contrapuntal dynamic resulting in a conclusive, yet expansive, overview of the entire work. To rate this recording on its performance is one thing, but it is far from the entire story. It deserves considerable merit for not only the realization of such an ambitious project, but for making it so accessible, emotionally direct, and impressionistically vivid. Gil Evans did a version of this kind of work, but his focus was deeply influenced by the history of jazz as he perceived it. Pellegrini's view is universal and deeply Debussy-esque in its aesthetic. In addition, the sound is first-rate: crisp, but warm in all the right places. Extraordinary.

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