Stefano Bollani: Piano Solo (ECM 1964)

Piano Solo

Piano Solo

Stefano Bollani piano
Recorded August 2005, Auditorio Radio Svizzera, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Assistant: Lara Persia
Mixed at Artesuono Studio, Udine
Produced by Manfred Eicher

After a fruitful apprenticeship under the wing of Enrico Rava (cf. Easy Living), pianist Stefano Bollani goes solo for ECM in a set of 16 vignettes as virtuosic as they are varied. From this alliterative description alone, one might think the simply titled Piano Solo to be nothing more than a potpourri of stylistic experiments. It is, rather, the wonderful, and sometimes wondrous, curriculum vitae of an artist who comes into his own on this record, even as he surpasses his own expectations.

Much of the marrow in the bones of Piano Solo draws nourishment from Bollani’s unprepared improvisations. Of these we are treated to four examples, the first of which breaks open the geode of his craft and renders every architectural facet therein. The remaining three, each more focused than the last, proceed from convolution to clarity, venturing along the way into the piano cavity before migrating with childlike energy to the keyboard proper. Notes sing their songs like storybook characters, flipping by like so many turned pages.

From Bollani’s own pen come three loosely drawn pieces: “Promenade,” “Buzzillare,” and “Sarcasmi.” Each lays another edge piece of the pianist’s puzzle, showing depth of range in its equal fascination with wistful autumns and humid summers. They are further notable for the humility of their virtuosity, and for the genuine attraction of their whimsy. Even his “On a Theme by Sergey Prokofiev,” tangential at best to the Andante of the Russian composer’s First Piano Concerto, takes on a special persuasion.

As alluring as these windows are, none are so Palladian as Bollani’s interpretations of standards and popular tunes. The reigning highlights thereof—namely, “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans” and Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag”—come straight out of Dixieland. Of them Bollani makes a cocktail that tastes at once fresh and nostalgic, with just the right twist for balance. “On The Street Where You Live” is another contender for album zenith, its descriptive beauties outmatched only by the adaptive flair of the one making them audible. Indeed, Bollani is just as comfortable waxing the prosody of “Antonia” (by the Milanese pianist and composer Antonio Zambrini) or the timeworn balladry of “For All We Know” as he is deconstructing the tango of “A Media Luz” or spouting golden heat across the dreamscape of “Como Fue.” In all of these, a marked separation between the left (sea) and right (sky) hands prevails, separating even the densest chords into their constituent elements. All of which funnels into the benediction of Brian Wilson’s “Don’t Talk,” by which the program impresses its seal with a gentle good night.

Not many pianists can be said, with any faith, to approach the improvisatory prowess of Keith Jarrett, but one need listen no further than Bollani, who in his arcing way creates a keystone for every flourish, so that everything holds true. For my money, he most closely fits the bill for his weighing of space and time, for a downright religious respect for the almighty melody, and for the breadth of his sounding. His distinction can be found in the robustness of his textures, which no matter how tightly woven always let the wind through.

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