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Spotlights [Issue # 24 ]
Stefano Bollani: Piano Solo

By Jason Sklar


“Recording something is always like taking a picture,” says pianist Stefano Bollani. When discussing plans for Piano Solo with ECM producer Manfred Eicher, the two plotted an album influenced by classical Russian composer Sergey Prokofiev.

But after a few initial sound checks, a more diverse song list seemed fitting. “It helps when you have someone with different ears than yours try to take the best of your playing and build a record,” Bollani notes.

Bollani has a uniquely Italian approach as his love for the melody mixes with spirited humor. “At a certain point of the record it’s stating something different, not only because of repertoire, but also the way I’m playing,” he expresses. In a way, the album is constructed in an A-side B-side fashion. “Side A” is mainly originals and Prokofiev compositions and “Side B” (starting somewhere around track nine) features Louis Alter’s “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans,” Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” and concludes with the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Talk.” Quite an array of genres, indeed. But a fluid listen for sure, as Bollani’s dexterity and consistency allow for a genre-agnostic presentation of a wide range of tunes.

“Even when I improvise, I love to build cages for myself so the musician Bollani has to try to escape Bollani, the composer,” he says. Prior to the solo effort, Bollani was featured on piano across trumpeter Enrico Rava’s albums including Easy Living (2004) and Tati (2005). Strikingly, Bollani felt liberated in those quintet and trio settings, respectively. “In a way, when I play with Enrico Rava, I feel much more free. There is another leader and I do not have to worry about the list of music.” As a soloist, Bollani takes on the roles of both band leader and band.

In comparison to his group efforts, Bollani’s touch on Piano Solo is far more gracefully spry than in the combo setting. “The piano I was playing was so good, I could play very very soft,” he emphasizes. “I love to do that. Playing softer means playing faster. What I like is the sound of something very fast and very soft. It means clarity, lightness.” At age eleven, Bollani recalls his instant enchantment with Oscar Peterson’s fast piano playing. Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra, and guitarist João Gilberto are a few of Bollani’s non-piano influences. After playing along with horn players, Bollani admits he often phrases like a vocalist or horn player. While he gravitated to other quick-playing pianists such as Art Tatum, he felt players like Bill Evans were “too easy.” Even though Bollani is enthralled with fast playing, he is careful not to play demonstrative music where one does all he can to fit in riffs, runs, and arpeggios merely to demonstrate his technical strengths. “What I like most is what I play when I’m alone,” he remarks. “I’m not what you would call a nervous musician, and I have no problem with time signatures or structures. But, I often like what I play at sound checks the most.” At sound checks, Bollani can find a happy place between the practice room and concert hall.

While nearly every other member of the band transports his instruments from gig to gig, the pianist must accompany himself with a new instrument for each engagement. “When I encounter a new piano, it’s like beginning a new love affair,” he says. “I should record sound checks.” On Piano Solo, to an extent he has. The album was recorded in Lugano, Switzerland. He played to an empty house of three hundred seats to get the feeling of a sound check. Since it was a solo recording, there were no headphones to interfere either - just Bollani and piano, as one.

In Italy, there are two different words that mean to play: giocare, as in, to play golf, and suonare, as in, to play music. Bollani attributes this distinction to the seriousness placed on playing music versus sports or games. But he prefers how French and English have a single term for playing. “I always try to have fun - to be happy about the thing that I am doing is the most important,” he says. Piano Solo is a fun, yet rich presentation of piano wit, one sure to stand the test of time.


Piano Solo
ECM

Piano Solo Stefano Bollani Piano Solo


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