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Live Reviews

Umbria Jazz Winter in Orvieto 2006-2007

By Published: February 7, 2007

Sellani and Rea also performed at the same location the following day in a magical pared down duo—for that occasion on separate pianos. Starting with a composition entitled "Sauro" in dedication to Sauro Brackets, one of the founders of Umbria Jazz who passed away earlier last year—the most intriguing aspect of this set, which proved to be a consistent thread through much of the festival, was the fact that Italian jazz musicians have their own standard repertoire in addition to the American jazz canon of standards as we know it. Aside from two familiar melodies to these stateside ears in "Autumn Leaves" ("Les Feuilles Nortes" for the Italian locals) and "Love is A Many Splendored Thing," Sellani and Rea improvised in solo and duo off of their country's heritage with melodies ranging from Rodugno's "Volare" (known as "Nel Blu Dipintodiblu") to Garinet/Giovanni's "Donna" and "Roma Non Facastupida."

The pianists' respectful father-son like musical (and seemingly otherwise) relationship allowed this special event to sidestep the context's common pitfalls of un-empathetic over-soloing and unmusical ego-tripping. Sometimes, as was the case here, the pairing is just a logical one, and all the elements of a successful piano duo fall right into place. Each piece came together instinctually; individually and collectively, the two dynamically exploited every possible aspect of this unique instrumentation, from intuitively starting and finishing one another's thoughts to comping, echoing, challenging and embellishing, as well as interchanging lead voice runs in split-second decisions, switching roles graciously from one moment to the next. Spur-of-the-moment improvisations were plentiful with nary a dull moment let alone hesitation from either. Their performances of each piece transformed into workouts for players and listeners alike, bringing standing ovations, roars and whistles from the packed space for additional encores at each sign of the concert's culmination. The musicians happily obliged.

Continuing down the generational ladder of the great Italian tradition of jazz pianists is none other than Stefano Bollani. Unaccompanied at the Teatro Mancinelli, his preview to the new release Piano Solo (ECM) featured an expectedly wide-ranging set list. From his medley of three Brazilian compositions to Prokofiev-like modern classical themes and even Les McCann-ish soul, Bollani's playing proved boundless. His free improv, based on various repeated lines and techniques, only served as an introduction to what he would accomplish on the well-known "On The Street Where You Live," in which he framed tempi with staccato right-hand lines while the left played a rapid—yet fluidly-stated—melody, creating a very personal interpretation that soon united both hands in shared concept, only to return back in blues-like repetitive fashion without once losing track of his compositional playing sense and melodic and/or rhythmic thread. My fingers hurt just looking and listening!

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