Enrico Rava/Stefano Bollani: The Third Man (ECM 2020)

The Third Man

The Third Man

Enrico Rava trumpet
Stefano Bollani piano
Recorded November 2006, Auditorio Radio Svizzera, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher

One cannot necessarily put too much stock in a cover photo as an accurate indication of the album with which it is associated. The Third Man is an exception. We see Rava leaned over a Steinway, at which sits longtime musical partner Stefano Bollani. The trumpeter regards his compatriot with seeming wonder. The pianist, in turn, regards Rava’s wonder with more of the same. We may read further into the image the presence of a producer, of an engineer—people who dedicate their lives to shaping a performance as it is shaped by those who so selflessly yet unmistakably bring it to fruition. All of this and more can be heard in “Estate.” Singer-songwriter Bruno Martino’s jazz standard finds renewal in the combination of instruments and opens an album of peerless shape, an album wherein tower the invisible pillars that hold up the sky and keep our dreams forever bouncing within the shaken snow globe of experience. After such an involved reverie, the freely improvised title track sprouts like a rose among the weeds of Bollani’s plucked strings. Dedicated to Orson Welles, who so wryly embodied the titular character of Carol Reed’s 1949 film, the music brims with film noir atmospherics.

One could almost pick out Rava’s originals by their titles alone. “Sun Bay” and “Sweet Light” speak equally to their composer’s optimism: lush, golden, and brimming with promises twice fulfilled. Both prove there is more to the soloist’s task than evoking a title or story, for such goals are as subjective as the means that inspire them. So while Rava’s clarion arpeggios taste of brine, they also harbor certain darkness, born of an observant soul. Here is a man who melodizes as he speaks: which is to say, from the heart. The tender “Birth Of A Butterfly” breaks chrysalis alongside the jagged architecture of “Cumpari.” Their juxtaposition enacts a coherence of balance through no small display of technical acuity. Although Bollani ties tighter knots as he progresses, and even contributes a tune of his own (the veiled “Santa Teresa”), Rava unravels each with the skill of a sailor, and ties a few in return throughout “In Search Of Titina.”

The duo’s shared interest in South America comes across in two pieces. Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Retrato Em Branco Y Preto” (which, incidentally, draws inspiration from “Estate”) is almost supernatural in the way it sings, as if it were of another world. “Felipe” (by the late Brazilian composer Moacir Santos) stretches canvas for Bollani’s primer and the swish of Rava’s fan brush. The disc ends with variations on “Retrato Em Branco Y Preto” and “Birth Of A Butterfly,” each the complement of the other: echo, reflection, resolution.

The Third Man sounds like windblown grass, the scurrying of animals in underbrush, the sway of trees in autumn. It feels like the squish of wet sand between the toes, the weight of eyelids before sleep, warmth in the chest of one who remembers love. In such a context, neither is Rava a mere bringer of melody nor Bollani merely his accompanist. They are the music itself.

The profundity of this encounter therefore cannot be overstated. Not because Rava and Bollani ply the listener with any sort of abstract philosophy, but for the simple fact that their art requires that listener to survive. In Rava’s playing is the burn of exerted muscle and the trail of a tear in kind; in Bollani the flow of water and technology. The album is, then, also a portrait of the venue in which it was recorded. Says Bollani of the Auditorio Radio Svizzera, “It’s not like being in a studio…. This recording really has a character all its own.” These words ring truer than their utterance, for the unfolding documented here would never have taken place without the collaboration of spatial and temporal forces above and beyond our range of detection. Let it be your radar, a voice in the night without fear.

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