“Italian pianists Stefano Travaglini and Massimiliano Coclite favour the term ‘instant composition’ over improvisation to describe what they’re doing on this superb collaboration: in their eyes, the latter signifies an approach fully liberated from conventions of harmony, rhythm, and form, whereas the former involves using a ‘score’ as a guide, one that outlines a direction and even perhaps goal and that’s delineated by notes, words, or diagrams. Stated otherwise, the twelve tracks on The Long Line aren’t improvisations in the pure sense, though it’s fundamentally present in how the two bring the pieces into physical form. Some of them, in fact, draw for inspiration from classical composers, specifically Hindemith, Copland, Stravinsky, and the English Tudor composer John Bull, a move that also focuses attention on the blurring of the lines between classical and jazz forms. Even in the album’s six free improvisations, direction of a kind has been adopted, namely from Aristotle and his enumeration of drama-related elements: Mythos (plot), Ethos (character), Dianoia (theme or reasoning), Lexis (diction/speech), Melos (music) and Opsis (spectacle).
Travaglini, who’s toured with his own Quintet and DayDream Trio outfits, has released two solo albums, the 2017 solo piano album Ellipse (Notami Jazz) and 2013’s The Hungarian Songbook. Coclite, a graduate of the Conservatoires of Teramo and Bari, is a long-time member of the wind quintet D’Annunzio and is a jazz instructor at the Alfredo Casella Music Conservatory in L’Aquila and the Nino Rota Music Conservatory in Monopoli. However different their backgrounds are, the two demonstrate a remarkable synergy on the recording. Close listening of the most attentive kind is required in an undertaking such as this one where the potential for getting tangled up in each other’s playing is omnipresent; Travaglini and Coclite are careful to ensure their playing’s marked by clarity above all else and that the album’s ‘instant compositions’ don’t turn into mere displays of virtuosity. However important each pianist is to the hour-long outcome, The Long Line can only succeed when the two put the collective entity before the individual.
In “Mythos,” dancing, single-note figures intertwine with a methodical, Bach-like elegance and architectural logic, and don’t be surprised if you’re reminded of Lennie Tristano’s own multi-tracked solo piano performances during “Dianoia,” which exudes a similar kind of mathematical logic. Inspired by one of Hindemith’s Four Temperaments (Sanguinisch), “Garden of Delights” sees the duo interlocking with preternatural precision, the lines clustering into threads that gather into unison chords and then separate into divergent yet complementary patterns.
“Querendo dançar,” which draws for inspiration from a Giga by John Bull from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, finds the duo dissolving the gap between the late-sixteenth century and today with a bluesy, almost stride-like exercise; the connection between Travaglini and Coclite is especially pronounced in the performance, never more so than during the closing minute when the diverse strands come together in a delicately rendered resolution. Inspired by Stravinsky’s Trois pièces pour quatuor à cordes, “Folk song, Clowns and Litany” wends adventurously through its eleven minutes, beginning impishly and then detouring abruptly into spikier territory before settling into a reverie that alternates between plaintive and majestic.
Its title taken from a quote Aaron Copland included in his What to Listen for in Music (“Music must always flow, for that is part of its very essence, but the creation of that continuity and flow – that long line – constitutes the be-all and end-all of every composer’s existence”), the animated title track flows with a breezy elegance characteristic of French impressionist music. Elsewhere, a pronounced blues-jazz sensibility drives the roller-coaster swing of “Lexis,” while “Opsis” distinguishes itself by being played entirely on the piano strings, resulting in a shimmering mass that in places sounds as if a dulcimer’s being sourced.
Similar to Ellipse’s standout “Monk’s Mood / Presences,” wherein fragments of Monk’s composition elliptically emerge, The album’s most memorable track is the cover of Johnny Green’s 1930 classic “Body and Soul,” in large part because its familiarity allows the listener to gauge more consciously the ways by which the pianists put their stamp on the tune, which they do by underlaying its famous melody with unusual harmonies, the result a startlingly original reimagining. By underpinning the tune’s well-known theme with darker sonorities, the pianists create an effect a little bit like two planets colliding.
Throughout the recording, the pianists’ expressions are emphatically made though not at the expense of control, and the ruminations, however rooted in a classical template they might be, exemplify the explorative quality of improvised jazz; structural coherence is definitely present, yet free-flow, too. It’s worth noting that before the nineteenth century, the distinction between composition and improvisation was less prevalent than it is today, with pianists and violinists routinely including cadenzas and improvised solo passages in performances of composers’ works. With The Long Line, Travaglini and Coclite thus offer something of a portal to an earlier time when the co-presence of composition and improvisation in a piece wasn’t unusual.”