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Recorded in November 2021, following a series of live dates in Italy, this duo album is the first encounter on disc between pianist Hersch, 67 in October, and trumpeter-flugelhornist Rava, 83. As expected, it showcases the lyricism that is a hallmark of both men, but also an intimate tension and playfulness.
That lyricism is evident from the first track, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Chico Buarque’s “Retrato em Branco e Preto,” emphasizing melodic richness with only the barest hint of the samba beat that usually serves as the tune’s rhythmic spine, as on the famed 1975 Stan Getz/João Gilberto version.
Tempos throughout the album are mostly relaxed, the rhythmic action coming from phrasing rather than velocity or meter. Likewise, Rava’s exclusive choice of flugelhorn — his preference in the past few years — gives the sound a softer edge than his trumpet might have. But the tension, playfulness and adventurousness come through in pieces like the spontaneous “Improvisation,” beginning with mysterious rumbling low-register chords from Hersch as Rava’s repeated puh-puh-puh’s of soft horn notes unspool into longer phrases. Soon, both men are spinning contrapuntal lines around each other, pausing, leaving space, darting forward, drifting on a harmonic cloud, Rava at one point inventing an entirely new melody. When, after some keyboard agitation and high brass cries, the piece ends with a hushed, dissonant piano chord fading away under a long, unresolved horn note, it’s the perfect coda to this improvised performance.
Likewise on the George Bassman/Ned Washington ballad standard “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” the duo breaks up the usually long-toned legato line with teasing short staccato phrases. There is a probing, delicate version of the Kern/Hammerstein title track; a dancing, tight arrangement of Hersch’s Latin-flavored and melodically sturdy “Child’s Song” that takes an unexpected turn into a free flugelhorn cadenza and affecting piano solo; a “Misterioso” that explores every corner of Monk’s harmonies; and a version of Rava’s “The Trial” that inspires with its constant contrapuntal invention.
A four-minute Hersch solo of Monk’s “’Round Midnight” closes the set — typically insightful and beautifully played. But at only 43 minutes, the album begs for at least one more duet. — Jon Garelick