Stefano Bollani is making the kind of big splash that only the ECM label can stir up, but his high profile has been prepared by his earlier work, both solo and in groups. Meeting trumpeter Enrico Rava in 1996 while playing behind Italian pop star Jovanotti proved fortuitous, helping push Bollani to commit to jazz. The two players made twelve albums together, culminating in his being an integral part of Rava's Easy Living
(ECM, 2004) and Tati
(ECM, 2005). Piano Solo
contains sixteen pieces, all but one of which are less than six minutes, and they have a wide stylistic range, including standards (both old and newer), free improvisation, Italian pop songs and even Brian Wilson's "Don't Talk," from Pet Sounds
(Capitol, 1966). Bollani's style, then, cannot be discerned in what
he plays, but rather how
he plays it. The fact that he is classically trained (a severely strict and formal approach to playing) cannot be missed, and his touch is exquisite and infinitely variedthe hallmark of a classical pianist.
All pianists playing at this level sound in control, but with Bollani control is central to his conception. Masters of the past such as Bach, Mozart and Beethoven could and did improvise, and such a skill is now lost for the most part in today's classical musicians. What Bollani does sounds very much how one would conceive a modern classical musician improvising, if one could.
This control of technical virtuosity leads to a feeling of reserve and intimacy, which some might wish escaped more than it did on the record (as on "Improv II" for example). Even on an upbeat piece like "Buzzillare," Bollani still exudes restraint, even in the thicker passages, leading one to ask for some letting gofor even, heaven's forbid, a mistake or a hesitation.
The last third of the album contains three extremely well known tunes, "Do You What It Means To Miss New Orleans," "On The Street Where You Live" and "Maple Leaf Rag," plus the aformentioned "Don't Talk," and on these pieces Bollani shines. Having drifted away from wanting an artist to introduce himself through his take on the familiar, and moving towards enjoying the new as a way to get to know a player, I was surprised by how entirely fresh these pieces sounded.
If you know someone who loves classical music, Piano Solo
is a wonderful album which can serve as an introduction to the immensely rewarding world of jazz.