It was only a matter of time before Stefano Bollani took away a little bit of the spotlight. While listening to trumpeter Enrico Rava's Tati, it was quite obvious that Bollani was a pianistic force to be reckoned with. No, I'm not talking about a young lion (can you be a young lion at age 34?), full of chops but bereft of ideas. Take a close listen to Tati and you'll hear Bollani engaging with some fine interplay with Paul Motian, one of the world's most sensitive and musical drummers.
With Piano Solo, the personality of Bollani's musical thoughts is allowed to wander. Some may say this isn't a good thing. But those are the same people who can't deal with Keith Jarrett's far-ranging improvisations. I look at it this way: Imagine you're standing in the center isle of a cathedral in the middle of the night. You're there with your camera to capture the details of the ceiling. Instead of a flash setup, you'll use an long exposure and "paint" the ceiling with a flashlight. While it's not possible to look at the photo being created during this process, the mind's eye can retain the most recent information and perhaps a vague sense of the entire image. With improvised music this sonic picture is constructed in real time, the story is there waiting to be revealed.
But wander Bollani does, through the history of his love of music. Piano Solo presents a mini-bio of his varied musical interests including classical (Prokofiev), show tunes ("On The Street Where You Live" from My Fair Lady), and pop (Louis Armstrong's "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans" and the Nat King Cole gem "For All We Know"). Purists might not take kindly to his version of Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag," but I thought it put Bollani's brilliant musical mind on display.
When not improvising on Prokofiev or working with the essence of a show tune, Bollani paints his own pictures. From the mildly dark "Impro I" to the at first romantic but increasingly "out" Impro III, it's clear that this musician has a lot to say. I particularly loved how "Impro V" transitioned from some very impressionistic chords into a blues of sorts. Great stuff.
Piano Solo ends with Bollani's take on the Beach Boys "Don't Talk." Fitting that a musician with this musical intellect would look to the possibilities inherent in the classic album Pet Sounds. Bollani does take the tune "out" (just a little), but the reverence for the original remains. Still, the improvisations here bring out nuances that I would have never thought existed in the song. And just maybe that is the reason for listening to music in general. There are more stories to be heard out there, even from the most well-worn material.