Music

Stefano Bollani: Joy in Spite of Everything

There are different ways to experience and to express joy. It can be celebratory, or quiet and introspective. Joy in Spite of Everything balances those poles of sound and style on what is one of the most successful jazz releases of the year.


Stefano Bollani
Label: ECM
Title: Joy in Spite of Everything
US Release Date: 2014-08-25
UK Release Date: 2014-08-25

It’s all about balance. The balance between dark and light, soft and loud, excess or minimalism. This truism applies to life as well as to the music of pianist Stefano Bollani. Bollani’s latest album, Joy in Spite of Everything, finds him recording with guitarist Bill Frisell and saxophone player Mark Turner, in addition to the core rhythm section that has accompanied him on his past few albums: Jesper Bodilsen on double bass and Morten Lund on drums.

Bollani records for ECM, whose motto is “the most beautiful sound next to silence.” This maxim melds well with his musical philosophy and the approach he took on this album, as well as his choice of Frisell. He expounds on this in the album trailer: “There’s a special way in Bill’s playing of using empty holes, using the silence in the music, which inspired me. Because jazz music is full of people playing a lot of notes, cascades of notes, arpeggios, scales and whatever you may like. Bill is special because he’s always very careful to space. So that’s what I was trying to do because since I was a kid my very first jazz teacher told me to be careful because many jazz piano players -- especially in my case because I was a fan of Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum -- many jazz musicians have to be careful not to fill in all the blanks. So, that’s why I’m in love with people like Ahmad Jamal, for example, because he’s very careful to balance between the music and the silence.”

Bollani has a firm background in both composition and improvisation, having been a child prodigy of sorts, enrolling in the Luigi Cherubini Conservatory in Florence at the age of 11 and playing professionally at 15. He’s accompanied a broad swath of the finest players in jazz, including numerous albums with trumpeter Enrico Rava and a recent collaboration with Chick Corea. He’s also a minor celebrity in his native Italy, where he’s a radio and TV personality and author.

All the music on Joy in Spite of Everything was written by Bollani specifically for the band assembled. Some, like “Vale” with its creeping melody lines and “Las Hortensias” with its dusky sax and brooding bass, are pensive and insular. “Teddy”, on the other hand, is a bouncy and angular guitar and piano duet, while the title track is hectic and full of fast piano runs.

When it comes down to it, there’s not a lackluster composition on the album. Yet, I keep returning to two especially memorable pieces. The lead-off “Easy Healing“ percolates with a West African sound and a light and joyous, hummable melody. While the later “Ismene” recalls some of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays’ works and is an excellent showcase for Frisell’s lyrical phrasing and unique tone.

There are different ways to experience and to express joy. It can be celebratory, or quiet and introspective. Joy in Spite of Everything balances those poles of sound and style on what is one of the most successful jazz releases of the year.

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