Rosario Giuliani – Lennie’s Pennies – Dreyfuss Jazz FDM 46050 369522, 54:08 ****:

(Rosario Giuliani – alto saxophone; Pierre de Bethmann – piano, Fender Rhodes; Darryl Hall – double bass; Joe La Barbera – drums)

It is a sure bet Italian saxophonist Rosario Giuliani is not well known outside Europe. But he is considered one of Italy’s finest players and for good reason. He shows remarkable development as composer, interpreter and performer with assurance that covers mainstream and post-bop jazz and is adaptive, moving effortlessly from ballads to blowouts.

Giuliani has gone from working with Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Phil Woods and Cedar Walton to running his own quartet, absorbing influences along the way. On the almost hour long Lennie’s Pennies – his fifth Dreyfus Jazz label outing and tenth release overall – Giuliani showcases a technique stimulated by Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Charlie Parker and others who have inspired him.

Giuliani and his band – keyboardist Pierre de Bethmann, double bassist Darryl Hall and drummer Joe La Barbera – start on an intense plateau with a heated rendition of Lennie Tristano’s title track. The tune highlights Giuliani’s perception and equilibrium, his melodic analysis and control, as well as his expressive ease with speedy and tricky time signatures. While Giuliani takes the forceful high ground, Hall and La Barbera keep the rhythm full-on while supplying a fine, fast counterpoint.

Another cover is Joe Zawinul’s endeavoring “74 Miles Away,” originally in 7/4 time, written when Zawinul was in The Cannonball Adderley Quintet. Giuliani toughens his tone and he and Bethmann, on hard-boiled acoustic piano, deliver touches of soul through a flurry of rhythmic sax blasts and piano runs.

The group’s own compositions are just as charismatic. Giuliani’s “Over Lines” suitably echoes latter-day Zawinul since it iterates Weather Report’s most rambunctious moments. Bethmann is monstrous on Fender Rhodes, swooping over his keyboard, while Giuliani sustains a breakneck gait on his alto sax and Hall and La Barbera maintain a Mach Two cadence. The record’s longest cut, Bethmann’s “Un Des Sens,” also advances at a rapid pace. Giuliani is front and center on the first half with some brisk sax lines that recall Charlie Parker and then Bethmann takes the vanguard as he renders an acute and nimble piano solo, followed by a La Barbera solo that is part Max Roach and part Peter Erskine.

One element that shapes this project into something versatile is balance. This would still be memorable if this was an hour of jazz sprints. But Giuliani and his bandmates display measured restraint and discipline on a number of ballads. The foursome arranges the romantic ode “Love Letters” into a graceful specimen of enduring affection. La Barbera provides understated rhythmic assistance, Giuliani furnishes a caressing sax stance and Bethmann contributes a tender characteristic. Irving Berlin’s “How Deep is the Ocean” retains a respectability but is wound up to a poised mid-tempo mannerism marked by La Barbera’s steadfast brushwork and Bethmann’s solid comping. Giuliani’s impressible “Picchi” fits right in, accented by lightly funky Fender Rhodes, a slinky rhythm and spirited sax. The final piece is Bethmann’s “Patience,” which has a late night theme ably supported by supple sax and refined Fender Rhodes and seems an apropos way to close out the proceedings.

1. Lennie’s Pennies
2. Love Letters
3. How Deep Is the Ocean
4. 74 Miles Away
5. Picchi
6. Over Lines
7. Dear Father
8. The Peacocks
9. Un Des Sens
10. Goldfish
11. Patience

— Doug Simpson