There’s a startling opening to this CD, whose leader has reasonably been described as perhaps the major French drummer over a period of at least thirty years. How much longer than thirty years depends on how much longer André Ceccarelli continues to go on with the vivacity he does on this set.
Turn on the player, track one, and suddenly everything’s there! There’s no lift-off period, the performance is already aloft and before the first bar’s through, the ears seem to have popped some time back. It caught my breath. No need to wait: colour and texture and line and forward movement. It seemed impossible anything could be added. The bassist is Hein van der Geyn, and I shall say more about the pianist below.
Of course since the second track, “Five Plus Five”, is by the full quartet, with the tenor saxophone of David El-Malek, something more was added. It has started, something to do with the drummer, and it builds, and then there’s Enrico Pieranunzi, suddenly out of the engine room and soloing on piano in perfect step with the impeccable swing. I may well over-praise this CD, or the material with which the three or four instrumentalists work, but there’s something special going on.
On the first of her two appearances, Elisabeth Kontomanou is singing in the very first bar of the third track, no messing with preliminaries on this one, even a hint of the game of seeing for how much longer you can trickle water into a glass seemingly full already. Then, in “Free Three”, without the vocalist and saxophonist, who could be imagined listening but not feeling left out, the trio strikes sparks off the theme at every opportunity.
Ms. Kontomanau delivers “I’m Through With Love” slightly dry-voiced and sounding like Cleo Laine (Dame Cleo Lane, to do the British stylist justice), with nice little touches on piano, and a tenor saxophone solo of exceptional fluency. “The First of November” has inspired the drummer to dispense for four minutes with everybody else’s services, and the leaves might be off the trees, but there are ways of keeping warm.
Time to relax: the bassist composed “Though Dreamers Die”, and here El-Malek solos on tenor with a more alto-like sound, and a considerable tenderness. When I say that he is then emulated in every respect by the pianist, I mean that over a number of years I have heard Enrico Pieranunzi do a variety of things, but never play better than he does here. Another of the clichés which attends Ceccarelli is “one of the national treasures of France”. Up there with Stephane Grappelli and the Mona Lisa? Actually, they all had Italian ancestors.
The drummer also co-composed “This Side Up”, and on this performance co-provides the dramatic backdrop to El-Malek’s flowingly wonderful tenor. I am reminded of Philly Joe Jones and Paul Chambers, just because this number moves like and has some sort of sisterly relation to the vein of Miles Davis’s Milestones album, and certainly the track known as “Milestones” since it appeared (due, I understand, to mislabelling) under that title on the Davis record.
This isn’t the only performance I’ve heard on recent review CDs — and happily not the only successful one — achieving the same feel and movement as that classic. One on-line source refers to the Davis album as providing a “bracing rhythmic tonic” (tonic as in healthful reviving draught). Yes! I’d end with that apt phrase but for the performance of — another with Italian forebears, maybe Italian descendants — Pieranunzi. Especially for his work in the opening of an instrumental version of the title track, and his sublime application of pianistic colour, the blurb gets full marks for the right phrase: “luminously lyrical”.