Enrico Rava / Stefano Bollani Quintet at Birdland, NYC

Budd Kopman By

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Enrico Rava/Stefano Bollani Quintet at Birdland, NYC
New York City, New York
February 24, 2008

Capping a four-day stand, and playing to a full house, trumpeter Enrico Rava and pianist Stefano Bollani, along with bassist Larry Grenadier, drummer Paul Motian and saxophonist Mark Turner were seductive, grooving, beautiful, while also being intellectual, very funny, moving and impressive.

Rava and Bollani have recently released a wonderful duo album The Third Man (ECM, 2008), and this appearance was tied to the recording; in fact, it was a running joke between the two. The album is extremely intimate and, perhaps thinking that such music might not work entirely well in a club setting, the duo was expanded to a quartet with a rhythm section, with Turner making it a quintet for this night.

The music was the kind of delicious modern mainstream that sends chills up the spines of anyone who appreciates attention to detail and responds to subtle surprises during a program performed effortlessly with every note full of meaning. Long an icon of the Italian jazz scene, Rava, now approaching seventy, knows who he is and what he wants to do. While his early career revolved around the avant-garde, he now has a simple, economical style, supported by a gorgeous trumpet sound distinctly reminiscent of his idols, Miles Davis and Chet Baker.

Bollani has played with Rava for more than a decade, only recently leaving to pursue his own projects, including his recent release Piano Solo (ECM, 2007). The two players have a clear comraderie, with Bollani considering Rava his mentor and Rava thinking the world of Bollani's talent.

The atmosphere was a combination of lightheartedness and intensity. Rava and Bollani were completely at ease with each other and the pacing of the music was never in doubt. Bollani's technical virtuosity was on full display, as was his extraordinary command of harmony, yet neither detracted from the group feeling. Motian provided extremely supple and complex rhythmic support, acting as a kind of reflection to Bollani, as both players added a layer of subtle complexity to the proceedings while being careful not to become too opaque.

The music thus swung in a sophisticated way, anchored by Grenadier, who was always listening to Motian. In the center was Rava, who played with assurance, using a lot of space while creating phrases that eventually connected to become sentences. Mark Turner's very light and airy tone blended well with the group as his reed provided contrast to the sound of Rava's brass.

The second tune, "Todamore," exemplified how the group worked. While the tune was ostensibly a tango, that rhythm's unique pattern was only hinted at, as neither Motian nor Bollani were explicit. Rava's solo was supported closely by Bollani as he fell in and out of rhythm. Bollani himself was magical, the harmony growing more and more abstract and venturing in Ravel-like territory. A joy to watch, he never stayed seated in one place for long, and his entire body became involved in the music.

The one tune played that was from The Third Man was Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Retrato Em Branco Y Preto," performed by just Rava and Bollani. This beautiful tune was given the same abstract treatment as on the record, and the depth of communication between pair was as evident to the eye as the ear. Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek" followed and lightened mood as the two joked at first. Bollani followed with a superb solo that combined the highest levels of both technical and musical ability.

By the end of the set, with the band now intact, Motian was smiling at Rava, as if to say that place where masters are having fun was reached. From the listener's perspective, the combination of Rava's maturity and elegance, Bollani's deep exuberance and Motian's subtle extroversion was a joy to behold.

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