Chick Corea/Stefano Bollani: Orvieto (ECM 2222)

Chick Corea
Stefano Bollani

Chick Corea piano
Stefano Bollani piano
Recorded live at Umbria Jazz, December 2010-January 2011
Recording engineer: Bernie Kirsh
Assistant engineer: Roberto Lioli
Album produced by Manfred Eicher

It’s impressive enough that untouchables like Keith Jarrett have taken the art of solo piano improvisation to the depths they have. To maintain comparable wonder and cohesion with the addition of another 88 keys is another feat entirely. For Chick Corea the prospect has flung open the windows of creativity out onto exciting new landscapes. Having already realized this vision with greats old and new (Herbie Hancock an Gonzalo Rubalcaba among them), Corea takes an instrument already so full at his fingers and uses it as an invitation to Italian virtuoso Stefano Bollani. Of their eponymous performances, Corea remarks, “Orvieto was winter-cold. The experience was summer-warm.” The analogy of temperature proves salient, for throughout these spontaneous gigs audiences surely felt tingly all over from the crystalline precision of these two powerful talents: one a legend, the other perhaps someday to be.

Were it not for Corea’s unmistakable pointillism and the softness of Bollani’s release, the two might be nearly impossible to distinguish. Which is not to say these qualities don’t switch places at any given moment, telling us that such parsing is arbitrary. An “Orvieto Improvisation” begins Parts I and II, clearing the air of any pollutants and diving into the thick of things with a synergy of purpose that betrays far more than the two years Corea and Bollani spent playing together before the present recording. The second of these dovetails into the Miles Davis classic, “Nardis,” in which the closeness of contact is wondrous. It is a twisted music box come to life, a look back through forward means. The duo continues to lay the nostalgia on thick along a select handful of standards. Of these, “Doralice” feels most like childhood, sprinkled with life and love and everything in between. Its freshness breathes like wind through autumn leaves and imbues these timeless tunes with clear and present animation. The interweaving of “If I Should Lose You” and bygone ambiance of “Darn That Dream” show humility to the music at hands. And the piano’s percussion instrument status is nowhere more obvious than in “Tirititran,” for which Corea and Bollani take their syncopation to its greatest heights. Similarly astonishing exchanges abound in their rendering of Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz.”

The soundtrack quality of Jobim’s “Retrato Em Branco E Preto” sparks all of these feelings and more, as does the rounded edge of “Este Seu Olhar,” the latter unwinding with the precision of a player piano yet with the abandon of a frolic. These are of a piece with the pianists’ own compositions. Bollani gives us a breath of the city streets in his “A Valsa Da Paula,” turning philosophies into rattled change in the pocket, a new spring in the step, and the force of opportunity on the horizon. Corea counters with “Armando’s Rhumba,” wherein he clothes the program’s most transcendent moments with “La Fiesta”-like exuberance. It is the pinnacle of what these two can achieve, and a whimsical lead-in to the resolute “Blues In F.”

The music of Orvieto is about nothing if not detail. Had Corea and Bollani become visual artists (and who’s to say they are not), they would be engravers, drawing out from cold metal canvases a fully rendered world of ideas. Their art is their stylus, their touch the acid that turns contact to shading and dimension, our ears the paper on which the final images are printed.

(To hear samples of Orvieto, click here.)

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