Stefano Bollani/Piano Solo; Enrico Rava & Stefano Bollani/The Third Man

Piano Solo: Amazon | Spotify

The Third Man: Amazon | Spotify

Piano Solo

Enrico Rava was one of the first Italian jazznmusicians to be taken seriously by American musicians and critics. Stefano Bollani is Italy’s hottest young jazz player. No surprise, then, that Bollani considered Rava to be his mentor, and joined the elder trumpeter’s group for a series of live performances and the recordings Easy Living (2004) and Tati (2005), which marked Rava’s return to the ECM label after a long absence.

Stefano Bollani is a lyrical pianist, certainly one that shows the influence of Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, but who also works in a classical background and the ability to go outside and free with his harmonies and improvisations. Yet there is no denying his commitment to the entirety of the jazz music repertoire, as demonstrated on his 2006 ECM release Piano Solo, where he takes on “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans” and “Maple Leaf Rag.” While he brings modern harmonies and his own European sensibilities to these classic pieces of the piano repertoire, he also shows an understanding of the underpinnings of stride and ragtime piano. Neither of these interpretations strive to be particularly faithful historic representations of the time in which they were written, yet they are both performed with respect for those traditions and manage to bring the tunes closer to modern listeners.

Bollani opens his solo recital with the piece “Antonia,” a modern Italian classic composed by Milanese pianist Antonio Zambrini, who emerged in 1998 as a major and influential Italian jazz artist. It is indicative of the distinctly European tone that Bollani adopts for the opening quarter of Piano Solo. His first two of four improvisations follow, with ‘Impro I’ being very structured and classical in nature, while ‘Impro II’ is more kinetic, with a rhythmically active left hand and some heavily post-bop right hand improvisation. His improvisation ‘On a Theme by Sergey Prokofiev’ links him, via a certain Russian romanticism, with Evans, as does his rendition of the standard “For All We Know.”

Another area that Stefano Bollani explores and which makes him such a good travelling companion for Enrico Rava, is the link between warm Mediterranean harmonies and various Latin stylings, particularly those of South America. He performs Edgardo Donato’s “A Media Luz” with a mix of deconstructed Argentinian tango rhythms and a more sun-kissed, opulent Italian romanticism. He takes a languid approach to Cuban composer Ernest Duarte Brito’s “Como Fue” that also distinguishes his ability to freshly interpret the work of Latin composers.

Piano Solo helped advance Bollani’s reputation both overseas and in the United States, as did his solo performances in support of the album. Rava replaced Bollani in his group, but the two clearly plan to play together in the future, and have recently released the duet CD The Third Man.

The Third Man is an introspective affair, as one might expect, and the similarities and contrasts of these two musicians are well matched. Rava can play with an outside edge, but his tone always remains warm and vibrant, as though kissed by the Mediterranean sun. His playing ensures that whatever edges he and Bollani explore are ultimately resolved in a satisfying manner for the listener.

The music that Bollani and Rava create together is restless, searching music shot through with glimpses into the warm, rounded tones and sensibility of some of Rava’s more lyrical work. Bollani is not the apprentice any longer. This is not to imply that he is the complete equal of Enrico Rava in terms of developing his own style and his musical experience, but the two are able to play off of each other in a manner that sometimes seems to verge on telepathic.

Together they cover a large swath of ground in terms of musical style, which makes this disc a suitable companion to Piano Solo. There are a number of original compositions by Rava as well as two renditions of Jobim’s “Retrato Em Branco Y Preto,” continuing the South American connection heard on Bollani’s disc. Latin music has also been an important touchstone for Rava throughout his career, and it should come as no surprise that his musical protégé and he find this to be a fruitful area for collaboration.

The two musicians are able to support each others’ lyrical flights, playing off each other in both comfortable and, at times, unexpected ways. The ability to shift from an overcast to sunnier mode at a moment’s notice is demonstrated on “Santa Terese,” while Rava’s composition “Sun Bay” shows how easily these two can move in and out between straight forward balladry and more ‘outside’ expressions. The Third Man compares favorably to Rava’s recent quartet outings as well as with Bollani’s solo piano work. Hopefully there are still more collaborations to come from these skilled European musicians.

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