Recorded in Rome on 6,7, 8 March 2003 at Sonic Recording Studio
Special Encounter is mostly a ballad set, featuring pianist Enrico Pieranunzi in close interplay with the sensitive bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian. They perform three standards, five originals by the pianist, and three songs by Haden. Two of the most memorable numbers are by the bassist, with both "Waltz for Ruth" and "Hello My Lovely" deserving to become standards. The music overall is gentle, taken at a relaxed pace and lyrical but never sleepy. These musicians know how to play both quietly and with passion, a rare skill. Special Encounter is a subtle treat.
-Scott Yanow (All Music Guide)
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On listening to the selections in Special Encounter I seemed to be drawn toward a nocturnal feeling, even on some of the pieces other than "Nightfall" and "Secret nights". When I wrote to Enrico of this he replied that he liked my "intuition of a link with a kind of night mood" and elaborated that Special Encounter "shows, in fact, a very narrative and meditative approach and I think that the deepest meditations and the most fantastic stories are the ones that dreams can come up with during the nighttime".
First of all, in order to achieve the rapport necessary for a CD such as Special Encounter there must be a strong telepathy among the musicians, the kind that is found in bands of long standing. The trio of Pieranunzi, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian is not a "working" group in the ordinary sense but Enrico has recorded with each several times and here with both only three days after they were together on "Fellinijazz". Originally conceived as a ballad album Special Encounter certainly contains ballads but the other pieces bring different elements into play that dovetail beautifully with the slower ballads to create a coherent whole.
Haden proposed two of the three standards recorded here. He brought the ; sheet music for "Why did I choose you?" (the least 'standard' of the standards), a long - ago Broadway song that Haden recorded for his CD "The art of the song". Pieranunzi was completely unaware of it even though Bill Evans had recorded it (that Evans did so on electric piano may have been one reason). Enrico decided to reveal the song's poignancy without a great deal of improvising ("I tried to keep the original vocal character of the melody and do my best to 'sing' it at the piano."). Haden's solo is an ideal interlude between the pianist's two segments.
Charlie also suggested "My old flame". This was a natural for Pieranunzi. He fell in love with it when, as a teenager, he heard Charlie Parker's recording. He has recorded it previously in two, separate duet settings with Chet Baker and Lee Konitz. Here he finds new beauties in an old, still smoldering ember.
The choice of "You've changed" came about when Francesca Campi, president of CamJazz, mentioned it as a song she Ioved. Enrico told her that he loved it too and had always wanted to record it. One take and it was done. He embellishes the melody minimally in the first chorus, takes more liberties in the second, final chorus and never loses the essence of the song's regret.
Four of Pieranunzi five originals were done here for the first time. He describes "Secret nights" as "an old tune of mine that I had never recorded or even performed before". He explains: "The title suggests a relationship with the mystery of the night and, again, of dreaming... The link for this came from the strange, dissonant intervals that are the trade mark of this tune, a kind of erratic, unanswered questioning, a questioning like the one that our not-material, inner world experiences while we're sleeping during the night".
"Earlier sea", which Enrico characterizes as "a latin-like, straight 8's tune", is faster than ballad tempo but it puts me in an after-dark mode.
"Loveward", "Miradas" and "Mo-ti" were all written especially for the session. "Loveward" and "Miradas" were composed - he says - "having in mind the special and very inspiring musical world of Charlie and Paul, their skill in saying so much using very few sounds". Pieranunzi's touch and feeling on "Loveward" is like watching the petals of a flower open; the haunting "Miradas" contains an element that gave me the 'triste' feeling of Brazilian music.
The title, "Mo-ti", "refers", Enrico tells us, "to the old Iranian root of Paul's Armenian rooted surname. Paul discovered the root while investigating the origins of his family. I liked the story and composed this medium tempo tune as a tribute to Paul, to his unique drumming and to his humanity". Of the three Haden originals "Nightfall" is Pieranunzi's favorite. "I can't explain why", he says, "I remember that while recording it I was very touched. Like other of Charlie's compositions that I recorded in the past ("Silence" or "First song") this tune bears a strange, special blend of lyricism, innocence and drama, a mood like something you have lost and strongly try to find again".
Haden wrote "Waltz for Ruth" for his wife. No midnight hour here. It is rather more like a sunny afternoon in May, dancing across a green lawn bordered by flowers. "Hello my lovely" is a tender cloud of blues that wafts along with alternate chords of Ray Bryant's "Changes", but Charlie's 'changes' include of course his own melody. Ray's does not have a melody per se (and for you, trivia fans, the changes to Toots Thielemans "Bluesette" come directly from Bryant's). Special Encounter lives up to its title, one that could be applied to any situation when these three highly-attuned musicians convene. Special indeed!
- Ira Gitler