From Best New Talent in 1998 to Best Musician and Best Album of 2006 in Italy's Jazz Musica magazine polls, it is safe to say that Stefano Bollani's star is in the ascendancy. Piano Solo, his second album of unaccompanied piano pieces, but his first for ECM, repeats the eclecticism of Smat Smat (Label Bleu, 2003) but shows a more controlled, more intimate and ultimately more mature Bollani.
Bollani uses a colorful box of paints to create the sixteen miniature musical canvases on this album. The pianist from Milan draws inspiration from, amongst others, the Beach Boys, Scott Joplin, Italy, and once again from Prokofiev. Yet despite such diverse sources, there is a suite-like continuity to the album as a whole. A strong, unwavering melodic line characterizes each song and Bollani's classical touch is also felt throughout, whether on the beautiful "Antonia by Antonio Zambini or on the breathtaking version of Brian Wilson's "Don't Talk. There is as much Alfred Brendel in Bollani's phrasing as there is Bill Evans.
The four improvisations are as revealing of Bollani's progression as they are enjoyable. The "pianismo," the plucking and banging of the piano's innards which Bollani has exploited in the past, is all but absent in these pieces, and his penchant for quoting is here diluted to the point where references are elusive, almost ghostly. The fourth improvisation will appeal to fans of Vince Guaraldi, with its low-register riff and romantic, dancing, bluesy melody.
In an interview given in 2002 for Quotidiano.com, Bollani defended his eclecticism thus: "Who established where jazz music finishes and 'the rest' begins? Who said that the jazz musician must be a damned poet, depressed and without a penny to his name? The point to value is whether or not he is making beautiful music.
There is no doubt that Stefano Bollani is indeed making beautiful music. Piano Solo, a delight from start to finish, is his most intimate and personal statement to date. The combination of virtuosity, originality of ideas, and sheer musicality in his playing on this album will surely go a long way to placing him amongst the very elite of today's jazz pianists.
Personnel: Stefano Bollani: piano.