London Jazz Festival, Wednesday 21/11/07

In an evening designed to showcase the celebrated European record label ECM, listeners at the Barbican Centre were treated to a pair of highly differing acoustic performances.

The Italian duo of maverick young pianist Stefano Bollani and veteran trumpeter Enrico Rava played with a zestful understanding that openly defied their age difference of more than 30 years. Long solo passages from both men were sandwiched between frequent periods of glorious interplay and, surprisingly, several warm doses of Mediterranean comedy. Bollani’s sense of humour especially shone through as he embellished his improvisation with inventive musical quotes and physical movement, such as closing the lid of the piano or gesturing to the heavens.

Tord Gustavsen and his fellow Norwegian sidemen displayed a complete contrast to this jovial mentality during their headline set, moving to the opposite extreme of the continental culture spectrum. Each musician played with a ferocious, powerful minimalism that has come to define the group’s burgeoning reputation. Drummer Jarle Vespestad showed the audience original ways of cymbal manipulation to generate minutely subtle shifts in mood, barely touching the drums themselves. His single solo could be likened to the performance of a master illusionist, using sleight of hand expertise to conjure epic visions into the minds of listeners.

The stoic figure of Harald Johnsen on double bass represented a ghostly presence on stage, taking the less is more approach to its ultimate echelon. Gustavsen on piano caressed the keys with a simple yet passionately virtuosic touch, animatedly swaying back and forth during solos and coaxing the group along with fragile, enticing melodies. The performance’s sole drawback was a tendency for the music to start sounding vaguely monotonous at times; undivided attention is absolutely required to appreciate the introspective magic of this captivating trio.

How very ECM of them.

Published at, 27/11/07 – click here for original.