This is definitely a unique jazz piano disc. Recorded at the studios of the Italian Swiss Radio in Lugano, 34-year-old Italian pianist Bollani here makes his debut on ECM as soloist after having been pianist on two previous albums of his mentor Enrico Rava. This innovative musician blends a huge variety of different styles and genres into a very personal approach, seen in the 16 short miniature improvisations, which ECM producer Manfred Eicher suggested he assemble into a sort of suite after having recorded them separately. The influences come from as far afield as classical (a strong element in much European modern jazz), tango, Brazilian music, ragtime and many kinds of jazz.
Bollani’s original plan was to do a whole album on the music of Prokofiev, but at the beginning of the recording session he decided he didn’t want to limit himself so much. He does perform his own version of the first movement of Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto, and some of his pieces’ titles – such as Sarcasmi – clearly harken to the approach and titles of the Russian master. Like many European jazz keyboardists, Bollani is classically trained. He was studying at the Luigi Cherubini Conservatory of Music when only 15 – but at the same time secretly playing jazz in clubs with his own bands. But there’s also a Beach Boys tune, as well as some Italian pop songs. Bollani was even keyboardist for an Italian rapper. The emotional range is wide, the harmonies often unexpected, and there is a strong sense of structure that probably comes from his classical background – even though the tracks are quite brief that’s noticeable.
The disc for reviewers came with a short DVD of an interview with Bollani plus his performances of three of his pieces on an outdoor area overlooking a spectacular view of Florence, Italy. It’s unfortunate that couldn’t have been included with the CD in a CD + DVD package for consumers. The typical ECM note booklet has photos of Bollani approaching and playing the piano – even adjusting the bench – but no notes about him or the music.
TrackList: Antonia, Improv I, Impro II, Impro on a theme by Prokofiev, For All We Know, Promenade, Impro III, A Media Luz, Impro IV, Buzzillare, Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?, Como Fue, On the Street Where You Live, Maple Leaf Rag, Sarcasmi, Don’t Talk.
– John Henry