Umbria Jazz Winter in Orvieto 2006-2007
Bollani, the "leader" of the trio of equal parts, thrived off of the multi-textural chord voicings, threading together various related (and unrelated) melodies and moods. For "How Deep is The Ocean," his choice of note-to-note accentuation always retained the element of surprise, avoiding predictability at all cost. Spontaneity is obviously the focal point of Bollani's musical essence, not to mention this trio's. And their stop-time false endings conversely and intentionally sped up towards their rendition's closing coda(s), building momentum to the point of a means to an inevitable end. Their timely rendition of what might have been the greatest and most unique rendition of "Jingle Bells" ever heard is what holiday collections should be made of. Hardly recognizable at first, the up-tempo rendition swung like crazy. The note placements within the dazzling runs led to a comical grunting, moaning improv initiated by Bollani when notes were no longer enough to get the group's message across.
A daily event full of potential but never quite achieving it was the "Suite for Lennie" multi- media presentation of video and music in tribute to the late great pianist, composer and teacher Lennie Tristano (1919-'78) at Sala del Carmine. With Gerardo Iacoucci (piano) and Stefano Cantarano (bass), Massimo Achilli created a video background serving as a collage that very rarely actually synched up with the music being performed (most intriguing actually was the altogether separate Tristano live solo piano concert film that preceded the concert itself while the audience took their seats). The limited relation of video to the suite of music (and vice versa)excepting occasional segment pauses and starting and stopping pointswas distracting. In addition there were plenty of recycled images over- utilized through the lengthy presentation and performance, which further dulled the senses. The lack of an evident chronological development in the video, which rather randomly skipped back and forth between black and white historic shots of New York and '70s shots of New Yorkers crossing the street with knee-high tube socks, soured the artistically intriguing melange of images. Its efforts at trying to communicate a story or any sort of momentum fell far short and seemed trite and far-reaching to say the least.
When the concert began, it soon became obvious that, with the use of overdubbed material accompanying the visuals, much of the creativity came from what was prerecorded, and not from the piano-bass duo onstage. The program of originals was book-ended by Tristano originals "Descent Into the Maelstrom" and "Lennie's Pennie's," with one other Tristano composition ("Requiem") inserted towards the middle. The opening portion preceding "Descent Into the Maelstrom" wound up being an extra-curricular, unrelated exercise to what followed, though the alternating images of Tristano and Edgar Allan Poe proved the artists had done some homework.
"Descent Into the Maelstrom" was a 1953 recorded piano solo by Tristano, which is a remarkable sound structure based on Poe's story and evidently one of his poems. Though it is fairly devoid of melody or thematic material, odd for jazz particularly at the time (given, Tristano was one of free jazz' pioneers and one of jazz' first modernist classical-influenced composers and players), it is based on a tonal center and fixed meter. For such swinging music throughout the suite that was either Tristano or Tristano-related, it was amazing how little movement came from Iacoucci's feet! That said, Iacoucci is exacting in his Tristano influence, which can only be a good thing since there is such a limited number of pianists today who openly claim Tristano in any manner of influence, amongst them two Americans: Tristano's famed student Sal Mosca and Mosca's one-time student Billy Lester.
Speaking of which, of the Americans invited, a fine sampling of talent was on hand this year. Veteran trumpeter Lew Soloff gathered together a rather unique quartet with Billy Hart (drums), Joe Locke (vibes), and Francois Moutin (bass). Though the members had for the most part been associated with one another in various other projects, this was a first-time gathering. Soloff had run into Locke in the Rochester airport a couple of years ago, and they expressed interest in playing together; the trumpeter had heard and sat in with Moutin when he played with Mike Stern at the 55Bar in New York and was, as he said, "knocked out with him." The three (Soloff, Locke, and Moutin) then played at a venue in the Meat Packing District in Manhattan with Soloff's good friend Jeff "Tain" Watts, and thus formed the initial configuration and personnel of a quartet that would perform at Ronnie Scott's in London. Umbria Artistic Director Carlo Pagnotta was in the audience on two occasions, liked what he heard and, subsequently, invited Soloff to bring the group to Orvieto (Hart, a longtime associate of Soloff's, filling the drum chair).