Stefano Bollani: Piano Solo

This is NOT background music. This is the TRUTH.

Stefano Bollani

Piano Solo

Label: ECM
US Release Date: 2007-02-06
UK Release Date: 2006-09-04

Last fall, young Italian jazz pianist Stefano Bollani released his first solo piano record in Europe, calling it Piano Solo. It has now been released here in the U.S., and jazz people need to pay attention -- he is subtle, he is skillful, and he might be a large part of the future.

There are very few histrionics on this record, no extended freakout liberation pieces or anything like that. But that does not mean that he always colors inside the lines either -- very often the beat is only implied and/or there is no known time signature -- they are all pitched in the same style. The opener, "Antonia", reminds one of one of Lennie Tristano's mellower pieces; Thelonious Monk's solo work is a huge influence the four pieces listed as "Impro"; Bill Evans seems to be pretty huge at other times, as in his interpretation of the Beach Boys' "Don't Talk".

Yet although he wears his influences on his sleeve, Bollani walks his own path. His lively Dixieland work on "Buzzilaire" just keeps modulating from place to place, restlessly exploring everything a piano solo can accomplish. On "A Media Luz", he improves on a sweet semi-free fantasia by (very) occasionally plucking one of the piano's inside strings; the sparing use of this technique early on keeps the listener off-guard in case it happens later on. (I'm not telling.)

Like many European jazz dudes, Bollani keeps himself close to the classical edge. His lovely "On a Theme by Sergey Prokofiev" is still jazz, but it could flatten a tuxedoed-and-begowned audience in a heartbeat. But the next piece, "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans", is more about trills than frills, and its relentless walking lines are way too gully-low to please that crowd. It's fun when he suddenly doubles the time, then quadruples it and starts painting rainbows all over the room -- but he's after a jazz thing here instead of any kind of "respectable" destination. Which is good. (Better: his out-there take on "Maple Leaf Rag", with a lot of respect for its negative space.) (Yes I know that sounds like bullshit but it's true.)

Because piano is the only instrument here, Bollani has to work pretty hard to get heard; some pieces, like "Como Fue", have a tendency to fade into the background unless you are really paying attention. But then he'll come up with a particularly genius idea (like his decision to play the melody line of "On the Street Where You Live" with his left hand at first against hyperactive syncopation in the right), or a stunning original composition ("Sarcasmi", which uses every key, every mood, and every dynamic, and sounds like a mission statement), and one realizes something important: this is NOT background music. This is the truth.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.