copyright © 2003 Ira Gitler
Italy on New Year's Eve was a special place to be, specifically at Alexanderplatz, Rome's leading jazz club. Although it is only 20 years old, Alexanderplatz is the Village Vanguard of Rome. Like the Vanguard it is a basement club but it is made up of several rooms whose liberal archways make for an openness and accessible views of the bandstand. Too, the ceilings are higher than the typical Euro jazz caves.
Owner Giampiero Rubei has an artistic eye and a sense of history. There are visually-arresting posters and many framed photos of past masters and other musicians who have played the club. A great number of those who have performed at Alexanderplatz have signed their names on the white-washed walls with indelible markers. The messages range from simple "grazies" to Benny Golson's: "Because of the many warm hearts and fantastic food at Alexanderplatz, I have finally become Italian. If there is anything better than this, it can only be heaven. I love you all."
Yes, the great food is what one expects in Italy and then some. On New Year's Eve it included lenticchie, lentils prepared with tomato and basil. The lenticchie represent hoped-for good fortune in the coming year, a parallel of black-eyed peas in the U.S.
The musical menu complemented the output from the kitchen and the exciting air of the special night. Pianist Enrico Pieranunzi is one of Italy's leading musicians and certainly of world class status. His latest CD, Current Conditions (CamJazz), is a trio recording with bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joey Baron, but on this night he led an all-Italian, all-star quintet with Rosario Giuliani, alto sax; Fabrizio Bosso, trumpet; Ares Tavolazzi, bass; and Fabrizio Sferra, drums.
Over three sets the repertoire ranged from Pieranunzi originals such as the melodic, medium-up "Song For My Brother"; a burning "Straight No Chaser" with the fiery Giuliani setting a pace that continued through some torrid "twelves" that lead back into Monk's theme; and thoughtful, personal versions of "Summertime" and "All the Things You Are." By the third set Bosso, after contributing some mellow flugel as well as crackling trumpet, had split. (He was double-booked.) Not to worry. Pieranunzi's brand of sensitive, lyrical, deep-thinking originality was on display in a trio number; and he and Giuliani glimmered and shimmered in a rapid enunciation of Tristano's "Lennie's Pennies."
The New Year at Alexanderplatz was as good as it gets.
- Ira Gitler
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