Based solely on the sheer number of jazz festivals in Italy this summer, music fans may choose to trust JazzTimes columnist Thomas Conrad"s claim in the liner notes to this double disc that the country has "the strongest jazz scene in the world outside the United States." Some xenophobes will need a bit more convincing, though, and a good opening salvo to the argument can be found on these 14 tracks, which feature the classically trained pianist Pieranunzi, a 58-year-old Roman who"s been headlining all over Europe and recording with greats such as Charlie Haden, Chet Baker, and Phil Woods since 1975.
Jazz fans will recognize Pieranunzi"s influences, which include Bud Powell and Chick Corea, and will hear echoes of Keith Jarrett at his most bombastic and a meditative Bill Evans circa Sunday at the Village Vanguard. Each piece--ten trio originals, four others adapted from scores written by cinema soundtrack legend Ennio Morricone--draws on a wide range of emotions and modes of attack, from lush, lingering chordal progressions to mind-bending runs. Most notable (and seductive) is Pieranunzi"s wide dynamic range, the perfect complement to bassist Marc Johnson"s unflinching swing and drummer Joey Baron"s energetic, eclectic lyricism.
It's Baron's involvement, in fact, that convinced this uninitiated listener to give Pieranunzi a spin: One of the instrument"s modern heroes, the drummer has a keen ear for international adventurers of substance. -David Schimke
You could say that Keren Ann"s voice--exquisitely clear, arresting even at a hush--rivals Cat Power"s, or that her delivery--the smooth crooning of "Where No Endings End," maybe the sexy growl of "It Ain"t No Crime"--puts Norah Jones to shame. That her songwriting does right by Joni Mitchell and Serge Gainsbourg, whose music she admired when she was growing up in France. It would be a start, but it still wouldn"t capture Keren Ann. Like her accent, which tickles the ear and seems almost-but-not-quite familiar, the Dutch-Javanese-Russian-Israeli singer-songwriter is hard to place--and totally addicting. In her fifth record, intimate lyrics complement rich arrangements of acoustic strings, rumbling electric guitar, and cool choral samples. It"s a slow-burning beauty of an album. -Julie Hanus
A former protege of avant-garde jazz master Ornette Coleman who has gravitated to gutbucket blues in recent years, the 65-year-old man they call Blood lays down his Katrina marker for posterity. Anyone who"s confused about why Ulmer would dredge up the subject more than a year after the disaster doesn't grasp the enduring power of folklore and oral history, or the essence of the blues. Of the five Ulmer originals, the scathing "Survivors of the Hurricane," the seething lament "Katrina," and the sardonic closer, "Old Slave Master," all have the potential to be timeless, yet topical, classics. The rest of the disc contains raucous, Chicago-meets-Memphis blues covers of kindred sentiments such as Bessie Smith"s "Backwater Blues" and Howlin' Wolf's "Commit a Crime." -Britt Robson
Homegrown American music, with its spices of Piedmont blues and Appalachian fiddle, and its bawdy or bloody themes, takes center stage in the current folk revival. But the various immigrant cultures that settled here brought their instruments along, too, and remixed their European musical traditions in the New World. Serbs and Croatians brought some of the most appealing tunes, and the two-disc Tamburitza! provides a beginner"s sampler of this once-popular music. Wild and whirling with rough-and-ready working-class roots, the music uses tamburitzas, stringed instruments strummed mandolin-style, as a backbone. The lyrics explore the familiar themes of love, lost love, love of homeland, and loss in exile, but in a chipper sort of way. In all, it"s the perfect pick-me-up for modern-day statesiders. -Joseph Hart
Electro-pop artist Antoine Bédard lifted his Montag moniker from a 1953 novel about a dystopia where firemen burn books, but on Going Places the 30-year-old paints more of a dreamscape: Picture rainbows crisscrossing a robin"s-egg-blue sky over fields of cherry trees in blossom. Montag"s title track is an audio trip composed of 70 sounds originating in 15 countries, from the voice of a train conductor in Israel to that of a beat-boxer in Spain. Brooklyn-based songstresses Au Revoir Simone and Arcade Fire's Owen Pallet add much-needed vocal harmonies to tracks Montag composed in his living room by digitally looping recordings of traditional instruments (flutes, trumpets) over the captured buzz of nearby kitchen appliances and vintage keyboards, resulting in an avant-garde orchestra ideal for clapping along with. -Kristen Mueller