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“Two pianists improvising together is a great challenge, and in these performances with Stefano, inspirational and great fun. There were no rehearsals for these performances – only a choice of songs to use. The freely improvised segments were spontaneous and not at all pre-arranged. Orvieto was winter-cold. The experience was summer-warm.”
— Chick Corea

“Orvieto” is the first album release of the exciting duo of Chick Corea and Stefano Bollani, a live set drawn from New Year performances at the Umbria Jazz Winter Festival where the two pianists played several nights of concerts together. Chick and Stefano have been giving such concerts, mostly in the context of Italian festivals, for more than two years now. They started out in Ravello in July 2009, and from the outset it was clear to both artists that this was a combination of great musical potential. Bollani points out that he has been listening to Corea’s music since he was eleven years old, taking what he could “from his style, his phrasing and his incredible rhythm”, and feels honoured, he says, to be playing in such company. Corea, from his side, has been monitoring Bollani’s playing for a few years, his liner notes to the box set reissue of “Solo Piano Improvisations/Children’s Songs” (ECM 2140-42) already mentioning Stefano as a pianist who inspired him.

Over the years Chick Corea has been a pioneer in two-piano performance, partnering Herbie Hancock, Friedrich Gulda, Nicolas Economou, and Gonzalo Rubalcaba in acclaimed concerts and recordings. Latterly, Stefano Bollani, too, has also been playing two piano concerts, with Martial Solal. The two players come to the combination with much broad experience, yet what they have achieved together raises the potential frequently to the borders of magic: the consistency of their imagination is astonishing. Throughout these performances Corea and Bollani complete and extend each other’s phrases almost as if – as Bollani has said – a single mind was controlling all four hands. Yet at the same time, “the two virtuosos displayed an incredibly harmonious capability of maintaining clearly identifiable personal traits even while playing obligatos”, to quote allaboutjazz.com.

The inventiveness in evidence extends through the genres, with a 75-minute programme including collective improvisations by Chick and Stefano, Corea’s “Armando’s Rhumba” (a favourite since the era of “My Spanish Heart”), Bollani’s “A Valsa da Paula”, tunes by Antonio Carlos Jobim including “Retrato Em Branco E Preto” (‘Portrait in Black and White”, previously recorded by Bollani with Enrico Rava on “The Third Man”), Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz”, a robust “Blues in F”, Miles Davis’s “Nardis” (which Corea used to play with the composer), standards including “Darn that Dream“ and “If I Should Lose You”, a flamenco-influenced traditional tune and more.

“Orvieto” is Chick Corea’s first new ECM recording in 27 years. Many of his early landmark recordings appeared on the label, including Circle’s “Paris Concert”, “Crystal Silence” with Gary Burton, and the eponymous debut of “Return To Forever”. Near the beginning of his label discography are the two volumes of solo “Piano Improvisations” from 1971, important discs which launched a great tradition of solo piano music on ECM, and were soon followed by Keith Jarrett’s “Facing You” and Paul Bley’s “Open, To Love”. Stefano Bollani’s “Piano Solo” album of 2005 belongs to this distinguished tradition. Other ECM recordings by Bollani include “Stone In The Water” with his ‘Danish trio’ with Jesper Bodilsen (double-bass) and Morten Lund (drums), “Tati” with Enrico Rava and Paul Motian and the aforementioned Rava/Bollani duo disc, “The Third Man”. He can also be heard on Rava’s “Easy Living” and “New York Days” discs.

Bollani was born in Milan in 1972. Corea – who recently celebrated his 70th birthday – was born in Massachusetts in 1941. Yet differences of age and experience are levelled by a shared eagerness to play, by a shared love of melody and jazz drive, and by the open-mindedness, quick-wittedness and playfulness common to both players. Here are ‘old’ and ‘new’ masters in accord, indeed.

Chick Corea and Stefano Bollani will be playing more duo concerts in 2012. Details soon.

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