Umbria Jazz: Days 4-6, July 13-15, 2009
The next three days of the Umbria Jazz began with two concert series that promised to be intriguing. American vibraphonist Joe Locke performed three times with Italian pianist Dado Moroni and saxophonist Rosario Giuliani at the very small Oratorio Santa Cecilia church. The trio is recording an album, presumably culling the best performances from all three concerts.
The other series, which the 2009 program calls "One of the feathers in the cap for this year's Festival," is an exclusive program of six concerts by George Lewis' AACM Great Black Music Ensemble, a 20-member big band drawn from the legendary Chicago organization of avant-garde jazz musicians. "No concert will be like any other," Lewis promised.
Meantime, the festival's daily lineup of local and international jazz greats continued unabated.
- July 13Chick Corea and Stefano Bollani Duet
- July 13Richard Galliano Quartet featuring Gonzalo Rubalcaba
- July 14AACM Great Black Music Ensemble, Program 1
- July 14Wynton Marsalis and the JALC Orchestra with Francesco Cafiso
- July 15Joe Locke, Dado Moroni, & Rosario Giuliani
- July 15Chip Wilson
- July 15AACM Great Black Music Ensemble, Program 4
Watching the two great pianists, Chick Coreaand Stefano Bollani, at the Arena Santa Giuliana proves that jazz is best experienced live: What you see in a performance can inform the music as much as what you hear.
Certainly their sounds are different. Bollani's is chordal, percussive, and prone to virtuosic flights of fancy; Corea's is sparer, more lyrical, and has bluesier inflections. What can't be heard on a recording, however, is how Bollani throws himself, literally, into his playinghe rocks, sways, stomps his feet, and dances to his own music. Corea, by contrast, is very staid and stiff: a conservatory stance that belies his extraordinary imagination.
After a piece of silly, Victor Borge-inspired stage business, Corea and Bollani began with a long, dissonant improv with shades of Debussy, trading devilish phrasings and re-phrasings in a very dark, very slow development. When Corea hit a double trill, however, the discernible melody of "On Green Dolphin Street" began to take shape. Once the tune had hit its stride, the musicians' stylistic differences revealed themselves; for example, Corea showed a tendency toward the lower half of the keyboard, Bollani to the upper. Bollani also let his percussive instincts loose, slapping the chords out of the keys while Corea's lyrical fingering dominated his work.
Despite the distinctions, the pianists' musical empathy was apparent. They worked from a setlist, but no sheet musictheir eyes divided time between the keyboard, and each other. The arena's video monitors focused closely on Corea and Bollani's faces, allowing a glimpse of two master musicians studying each other intently as they traded off the roles of melody and rhythmic accompaniment on "Picture in Black and White" and "Hot House."
If the songs were warhorses, though, at Corea and Bollani's hands they became implacably modern. Nowhere was this more apparent than in a mini-set of Thelonious Monkcompositions. "'Round Midnight" emerged from another long, improvised intro, then dissolved into a wash of passing chords and subversions. Occasionally another Monk fragment would surface, but they never lingered long and were frequently dissonant, embellished, and barely recognizable. After a wonderful improvisation that had them trading fours, the duo veered without pause into "Blue Monk," but only as a launchpad for another swirling, abstract improvisation that morphed into disjointed parts (the opening four-note riff, the half-step turnaround) of "Epistrophy" before returning to "Blue Monk." Throughout, Bollani would stop playing the keyboard to begin plucking and tapping the innards of his instrument with a drumstick.
The crowd was thrilled. After an angular, superbly virtuosic encore of "Take the A Train," they swarmed down the central aisle to the stage, screaming for a second encore. The musicians obliged with something sure to please the frenzied spectators: Corea's most popular tune, "Spain." Corea urged the audience to sing along to some of the song's familiar hooks, a tactic that found fan after happy fan whistling those same hooks on the walk back from the arena. That, surely, is how you know you've seen a great concert.
Accordion is one of the rarest jazz instruments, perhaps because it's associated with European forms like polka that are mostly regarded as kitsch in the United States. But Richard Gallianois French, burdened with no such biases. Although his instrument's high-pitched, reedy timbre can sound alien in the context of a jazz rhythm section, Galliano's own canny rhythmic sensecoupled with his startling intensity as a performermakes it work.
He had extraordinary help making it work at Monday's midnight performance at Teatro Morlacchi: a brilliant multinational quartet featuring Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Cameroon-born bassist Richard Bona, and American drummer Clarence Penn. Though Galliano and Rubalcaba are the quartet's major names, it is a true supergroup with each musician a spectacle of his own.