|AMG Review by Steven Loewy (4 1/2):
Trumpeter Enrico Rava has proven himself adept at virtually every style of jazz, from bop through the avant-garde. For this short recording, he teams up with third-stream pianist Ran Blake in a series of 12 emotionally drenched tunes emphasizing the kind of dark, foreboding atmosphere for which Blake is well-known. Highlights include wonderful interpretations of "Tea for Two," "I Should Care," "Let's Stay Together," a pairing of "Vertigo" and "Laura," and "Nature Boy." Rava does his best to adapt his usually brighter playing to the overall noir atmosphere, and he generally succeeds, making this a must-have for followers of both Blake's and Rava's work. A strong lyrical element permeates, as the two explore all of the nooks and crannies of each tune, often in slow motion. The results speak for themselves, and the enthusiastic live audience was clearly touched.
Recorded in concert in Frankfurt, Duo en Noir is a collaboration in mood by these two acknowledged masters of mood and of improv. The Italian trumpeter has a marvelous way of sounding weary without sounding trite; it’s the bittersweet slur that often closes his phrases. Blake, probably best known for his solo piano recordings, comes from the NEC third stream school; but never remains there too long.
The ten numbers here are semi-programmatic, according to Blake’s liner notes. A strikingly slow version of “Nature Boy” opens the set, wistfully, and the entwined film themes “Vertigo/Laura” continue that uncertain feeling. In fact, the cumulative effect of these relative short tracks, none longer than five minutes, is cinematographic. Moods change, and become strange as this set of mostly standards are taken out of their normal milieu. For example, “Tea For Two” seems to be a typical cocktail lounge take on the tune, but a few phrases in, Ran Blake is more like Eubie Blake. Stop and start piano chords tease, and Rava plays spiraling bop-like lines which skitter ever higher into free terrain. Rava plays alone on“Certi angoli,” and Blakes’ solo take on Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” loses all Memphis-ness, and is a marvelous vehicle for deconstruction. The applause between each song takes you away from fantasy, but each time, the musicians take you back. Intrigue.