Stefano Bollani Trio ‘Mediterraneo’ (ACT) 3/5

ACT has made it a virtual trademark to showcase the very best in up and coming pianistic talent and has invariably done so in challenging settings that stimulates creativity and label boss Siggi Loch is to be commended for such an open-minded approach. This live recording is a coming together of a fourteen piece string and brass ensemble that are part of the prestigious Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the so-called, ‘Mitglieder’, or orchestral members, and the repertoire is re-interpretations of classical opera pieces in a piano jazz trio milieu with classical elements added and arrangements by Norwegian Geir Lysne. Danish jazz accompanists Jesper Bodilsen (double bass) and Morten Lund (drums) make up the closely knit trio and there are a few more contemporary Italian pop and film soundtrack numbers added in for good measure and a little variety. If the idea behind the project is an excellent one and fully deserving of support, then the execution needs to be clear about where classical and jazz elements coincide and can be complimentary, and where they are better separated to avoid sounding too stilted.

Where this works best is when the trio get down to business and create an intimate environment in which to take off in new directions on well known themes, as with Nino Rota’s ‘Amarcord’, from a famous Federico Fellini film of the same title. If anything, the project as whole would have been better served sticking to more contemporary fare and they perform well again on ‘The good, the bad and the ugly’. A medley of Leoncavallo and Puccini numbers, ‘O mio babbino caro’ for the latter and ‘Mattinata’ for the former, showcases the trio at their best recalling the Brad Mehldau sound. However, the strings and brass, however well performed by member of arguably the premier western classical orchestra in the world, simply sound too rigid in a jazz context, and there is no improvised feel which sounds strange when one is accustomed to a swinging big band jazz orchestra. That is no fault of the musicians themselves who are fine individuals in their own right and, moreover, need to be in order to regularly perform with the Berlin Phil. Rather, they are being asked to perform in an idiom which is not their own and ultimately that structural weakness has to be addressed.

Maybe a project devoted to the music of Paolo Conte, or another composer of the same calibre might prove to be fertile terrain for a future follow up. The now distinctive artwork comes courtesy of Federico Herrero, with a gatefold sleeve that reveals inner notes in English and German.

Tim Stenhouse