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Chick Corea / Stefano Bollani: Orvieto

John Kelman By

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If the combination of two chordal instruments—guitar with piano, or vibraphone with guitar, say—can prove a significant challenge in improvised music, then surely the piano duo is the most demanding of all. No other instrument has a seven-and-a-quarter octave range, played with eight fingers and two thumbs, creating far greater risk of harmonic, melodic and rhythmic train wrecks.

Pianist Chick Corea has been mining the vast harmonic potential of the piano duo more than most, beginning with An Evening with Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea: In Concert (Columbia, 1978), which came as something of a surprise for those more familiar with both pianists' funk and fusion escapades of the time. Corea had, however, been mixing it up stylistically since the early part of the decade, and if his electric albums with Return to Forever were selling like hotcakes, so, too, were classics, like his celebrated duet record with vibraphonist Gary Burton, Crystal Silence (ECM, 1973). Since his duo with Hancock, Corea has also recorded with other pianists—ranging from Friedrich Gulda and Nicolas Economou to Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Japanese upstart Hiromi—but none have taken such unmitigated risk and yielded such joyful rewards as Orvieto, his first album with Stefano Bollani..

Nearly half Corea's age, Bollani's star has been on the rise over the past decade, first with trumpeter Enrico Rava and then for his own ECM recordings, in particular 2007's Piano Solo, which joins the German label's heralded cannon of solo piano recording begun by Corea with Piano Improvisations Vol. 1 (1971) and Vol. 2 (1972). A pianist of rare invention, what distinguishes Bollani from his peers is a puckish ability to combine outrageous playfulness with virtuosity and encyclopedic knowledge, as capable of pushing his partners into near-musical slapstick as he is resonant depth and, oftentimes, profound beauty.

Bollani's effervescence dovetails perfectly with Corea's mischievous approach on this set of improvisations, standards spanning seven decades, and originals like Corea's often-recorded "Armando's Rhumba," here taken to glorious extremes as the two pianists manage the impossible, finishing each others' thoughts, coming together in uncanny unison, and accompanying both themselves and each other in ways that belie their avoidance of rehearsals. Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz" has rarely sounded this alive, swinging with unfettered energy as they effortlessly move between individual and in-tandem soloing; then again, given these performances' unrelenting spontaneity, it's less about the individual and more about the collective, which moves with unconstrained freedom amidst the loosely defined structures.

Unlike most duo recordings, Bollani and Corea are not split into left and right channels; instead, the two instruments converge towards the center of the mix from lower register to upper, giving Orvieto an even greater "you are there" feeling—but "there" isn't in the audience, it's right up there with the pianists. Those familiar with either player will have no difficulty in identifying them here; for those who aren't, does it really matter? Instead, it makes Orvieto all the more appreciable for its remarkably empathy, telepathy and synchronicity—symmetry, even, at times—less a duo, and more the remarkable melding of musical minds for a most singular purpose.

Track Listing: Orvieto Improvisation No. 1; Retrato Em Branco E Preto; If I Should Lose You; Doralice; Jitterbug Waltz; A Valsa Da Paula; Orvietio Improvisation No. 2 / Nardis; Este Seu Olhar; Darn That Dream; Tirititran; Armando's Rhumba; Blues in F.

Personnel: Chick Corea: piano; Stefano Bollani: piano.

Title: Orvieto | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: ECM Records

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