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The Third Man by Enrico Rava and Stefano Bollani

Thoughtful jazz, truly thoughtful jazz, might be the rarest art form. For it to be successful there can be no moments when the artist, or artists, involved are not totally in sync with the process of creation and open to all possibilities. Maybe that’s why the duet, in jazz, as a vehicle for expression, has been so difficult for artists to successfully master.

In these situations the immediacy of the call and response concept is not just direct, but essential. If split-second connections and adjustments are not made, the result is two people speaking at cross-purposes; in other words, mush. It’s not by chance the duet work of Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines still takes central place in the canon. When two masters are directly in tune with each other’s musical temperament magic can spark.

Trumpeter and composer Enrico Rava, now almost 70 years-old, while showing just slight indications of age, still has more taste, wit, reverence for the clarity jazz can project and respect for its tradition than almost every musician half his age. In his new recording with pianist Stefano Bollani, who is half Rava’s age, the Italian musicians tackle not only original compositions, but also those by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Santos, a song by Bruno Martino and free improvisation all in a manner befitting the best of jazz; one based on communication.

The recording might be best summed up by their work on the totally improvisatory title track. They each select tones which the other repeats before quickly moving on to harmonic implications inherent within the language of the moment. Bollani uses his instrument to both fuse areas of commonality as well as direct the lines Rava implies seemingly before he even knows them himself. Rava’s section of trills, for example, was carefully established by the open quartel/quintel implications Bollani found within Rava’s previous phrases. This, in turn, moves forward into Bollani’s own singular adaptation of those trills before the duet ends with a concluding note that is a direct descendent of Bollani’s opening figure. There is a concept saying all music is arch form; here two masters illustrate how even in the free-ist of situations that proposal holds great validity.

One of the most delightful pieces is Rava’s own "Sun Ray." Bollani rolls out streams of tonally augmented major chords behind Rava’s simple melodic lines. Together they remind that music devoid of pretention has the most powerful effect of all.

Bollani’s sole composition, "Santa Teresa," shows the young phenom to be a forward-thinking, contemplative and engaging composer. Harmonically the piece differs greatly from the set of music surrounding it, but its inclusion still speaks to the heart of the CD - the sharing of thought. Rava stays out of the way, for the most part, allowing Bollani room to shift the temperament of the disc in relation to previously presented work. The delightful tunes, "Sweet Light" and "Felipe," which encase it on the disc, provide even more stark realization that Bollani has his own unique viewpoint. While this vision is more directly addressed on Bollani’s Piano Solo (ECM) CD, the inclusion of his own work here is well placed to provide contrast.

Lastly, one should not lose sight of the fact in many ways this is a disc of classical music. While compositions such as "In Search Of Titina" include solo and accompaniment mad dash moments, there are also harmonic areas of 20th century Stravinsky-ish harmonies they bring forward even where not expected, like in Jobim’s "Retrato Em Branco Y Preto."

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Enrico Rava and Stefano Bollani
  • CD Title: The Third Man
  • Genre: Progressive
  • Year Released: 2008
  • Record Label: ECM
  • Tracks: Estate, The Third Man, Sun Bay, Retrato Em Branco Y Preto, Birth Of A Butterfly, Cumpari, Sweet Light, Santa Teresa, Felipe, In Search Of Titina, Retrato Em Branco Y Preto Var. and Birth Of A Butterfly Var.
  • Musicians: Enrico Rava (trumpet), Stefano Bollini (piano)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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