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An insightful disc from two of Italy’s – indeed, Europe’s – most gifted jazz improvisers, “The Third Man” is an intimate recording, of great musical depth, whose direction has surprised even the creators. Pianist Stefano Bollani (born Milan 1972) posits that the venue itself – the Auditorio Radio Svizzera in Lugano – has exerted its influence upon the music. “We both really like the atmosphere of Lugano and the ECM recording situation where you’re able to play in the room without need of headphones. It’s not like being in a studio – and it’s not like giving a concert either. Enrico and I are playing together for a long time now – more than 10 years – and we’ve given concerts in many contexts including duo. We’ve also recorded as a duo previously [for Label Bleu and Philology]. But we’ve never played a concert or made a record that sounds at all like this. The recording really has a character all its own.”

Here is marvellous linear playing and melodies plucked from the air, two master improvisers making freely lyrical jazz together – inspired by jazz history, South American music (an important source for both musicians), the Italian song tradition, contemporary composition and more, all developed, under Manfred Eicher’s supervision, into a unique programme. The repertoire includes compositions by each of the protagonists, two takes of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s famous ballad “Retrato Em Branco Y Preto”, a reinvention of “Estate” by the Italian singer Bruno Martino (whose own inspirations included Neapolitan folk song as well as jazz ) and spontaneous – yet profoundly melodic – free improvisation on the title track. After the fact, this piece, like the album, was dedicated to Orson Welles and the film noir tradition. Film fans both, Rava and Bollani continue the train of association begun with their 2004 collaboration “Tati”, which was offered as a tribute to French actor/filmmaker Jacques Tati.

Stefano Bollani was just thirteen, a young student at the Florence conservatory, when he first heard Enrico Rava in concert, a key experience he says, “and one of the first concerts I ever saw.” This period, he was beginning to explore a wide range of musical options, inspired by the entire classical music tradition and by popular music both international and Italian, and starting to understand the range of jazz. He would come to consider Rava his mentor after the trumpeter advised him to get out of pop music and make improvisation his priority. But even when they first played together, the relationship was never simply one of teacher and pupil: From the beginning, says the pianist, Rava was open to his melodic propositions, and would take them and build upon them in his own solo statements. This is the model they have followed to date. Together they’ve developed a very wide-ranging musical language that is as congruent as it is quick-witted, unpredictable, and poetic. Bollani puts his phenomenal technique in the service of the music always, and Rava sings on the trumpet in an ever-clearer voice.

Born in Trieste 1939, Enrico Rava made history as the first of the Italian jazz musicians to find acceptance from the international improvising community. His career began in earnest with his collaboration with Gato Barbieri in 1962. He joined Steve Lacy’s group in time for the legendary ESP recording “The Forest and the Zoo” made in Argentina in 1966. During a lengthy stay in New York Rava worked with Carla Bley (“Escalator Over The Hill”), Lee Konitz, Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Archie Shepp and many others. His first band as a leader included John Abercrombie on guitar; by 1974 this had developed into the quartet heard on Rava’s early ECM recordings, with Palle Danielsson and Jon Christensen as rhythm section (albums “The Pilgrim and the Stars”, “The Plot”). Equally important was the quartet with Roswell Rudd of 1978. In 1986 he co-led a quintet with Dino Saluzzi (album “Volver”). Away from ECM in the 1990s, he returned with renewed purpose with “Easy Living” in 2003, widely regarded as one of the best discs of Rava’s long career. The recording also marked the beginning of producer Manfred Eicher’s association with pianist Bollani.
Release of “Easy Living” in 2004 coincided with the publication of a Rava biography in Italy, a 65th birthday concert at the Rome Auditorium, and a major award in France, the European Musician of the Year Award from the Académie du Jazz.

“Tati”, recorded in New York at the end of 2004 and featuring Rava and Bollani in a first studio encounter with drummer Paul Motian, was an album of the year in both Jazzman and Jazz Magazine, and created a wave of international interest, sustained with the release of Bollani’s “Piano Solo”, recorded August 2005 in the setting now used for “The Third Man”. “Piano Solo” too, won awards for its kaleidoscopic journey through the history of jazz (with nods too to Prokofiev and Brian Wilson) including the album of the year award from Musica Jazz.

“The Third Man” is released as Enrico Rava and Stefano Bollani embark on a European tour with concerts in Paris (November 12), Cagliari (November 15), Berlin (November 17), London (21 November), Bari (November 30) and Alcamo (December 7). Further dates are in preparation for 2008.

Stop press: Stefano Bollani has just won the European Jazz Prize as Musician of the Year 2007. The Prize will be presented on December 14 in Vienna at the Porgy & Bess club.