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Enrico Rava / Stefan Bollani: The Third Man

Budd Kopman By

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The first thing noticeable about the intensely intimate The Third Man is how acoustically alive it is, even when played back on inferior equipment. Pianist Stefano Bollani posits that the recording venue—the Auditorio Radio Svizzeria in Lugano, Italy—directly affected the musical outcome. He and trumpeter Enrico Rava were able to play without headphones and thus could interact more directly.

The sound of the space, as echoes which produce a voluminous sound stage, are clearly audible with both the trumpet and the piano. It seems as if Bollani actually plays with it, using the harmonic complexity produced by the overtones to his advantage.

Of course, Rava and Bollani have a history playing together in differing configurations for over ten years. Bollani credits Rava, the elder statesman, with getting him into jazz and considers him his mentor. Bollani did not play, however, on Rava's latest recording, The Words and the Days (ECM, 2007), since he wanted to concentrate on his own playing, resulting in Piano Solo (ECM, 2007).

Rava has never been more persuasively human in his playing. His trumpet sound, while still extremely clear, has picked up a bit of an introspective undertone. When this tone is combined with his impeccable phrasing, his use of space and all manner of valvings, shrieks and cries, true magic happens.

As a partner, Bollani is very attentive to what Rava is doing, reacting instantly and running with it. Technically, he is a magician, and his solo sections are replete with ideas that seem to flow from an endless imagination. However, when playing with Rava and treading the line between accompaniment and interaction, Bollani sometimes gets too busy, detracting slightly from the mood. Just because he can play anything he hears does not mean that he should. In an interesting side observation, Bollani quite noticeably lays back on his own tune, "Santa Teresa," perhaps unconsciously realizing his playing predilections.

Despite this quibble, the music made is perfect for a quiet, romantic evening with candles, wine and introspection. Avoiding the simplistic, Rava and Bollani have created much beauty within a web of complexity and thought. Rava's compositions ("Sun Bay," "Birth Of A Butterfly," "Cumpari," "Sweet Light" and "In Search Of Titina") have a nice balance of clear melody and ambiguous harmony that maintains interest by not being obvious.

Antonio Carlos Jobim's dark ballad "Retrato Em Branco Y Preto" is performed twice and is taken many places, particularly by Bollani, making these tracks one of the album's high points. The pure improvisation of the title tune is also wondrous, and ends with a heart-rending cry from Rava's trumpet.

The Third Man is exquisitely sensitive music made by two master musicians.

Visit Enrico Rava and Stefano Bollani on the web.

Track Listing: 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.; Birth of a Butterfly, Var.

Personnel: Enrico Rava: trumpet; Stefano Bollani: piano.

Title: The Third Man | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: ECM Records

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