Photograph: Paolo Soriani
Visit the website ofStefano Bollani
The Italian pianist Stefano Bollani is altogether brilliant, virtuoso, witty and intellectual; he is rich with all the music making out our modernity (from pop to scholarly western music, from jazz in all its form to songs)…a phenomenon, if we take into consideration his techniques, elegance and musicality. He is not only one of the most promising musicians of the European young scene, but also one of the four or five personalities of the last years allowing jazz music to believe again in its future. As indispensable partner of the trumpeter Enrico Rava for over ten years, Bollani is work addicted, always on a quest for new territories to invest or explore. The varied and inspired albums already released under his own name for Label Bleu constitute a good illustration of his talent: from the “false” solo, cleverly tampered with re-recordings and other overdubs (“Smat Smat”) to the Suite for piano and orchestra, a masterly jostled neo-classical inspired piece (“Concertone”); from the simultaneous and telepathic duo with Rava to the “oulipienne” evocation of Raymond Queneau’s poetic universe in traditional jazz trio (“Les Fleurs Bleues”)….an amazingly deep, vast and complex world is progressively coming out, greedily borrowing from all registers without ever loosing its aesthetic coherence nor its sound identity.
The new album “I Visionari”, the last metamorphosis of this stunning formal eclecticism, can only but confirm the idea according to which this young man is blessed by God: Stefano Bollani is a non-standard talent and his irresistible rise is only beginning…
Born in 1972 in Milan, the little Stefano rapidly showed in Florence, where his family moved shortly after his birth, a marked taste for music. He played the piano at the age of six, secretly dreaming at the time to get closer to his God, the pop singer Adriano Celentano. At the age of eleven, Bollani entered the prestigious and rigorous Florence Music Academy. Under the iron rule of a master entirely dedicated to Germanic music, Bollani got initiated to the great tradition of classical and romantic piano music, although he was already naturally attracted by the harmonic freedom and the mysterious gracefulness of a certain French modernity (Debussy, Ravel, Satie, Milhaud…) as well as the rhythmic ardour of Russian composers (Prokoviev). His musical personality was then refined when this young pianist discovered Charlie Parker’s music. Captivated by the boundless possibilities of the improvisation, he decided to get initiated to jazz techniques and spirit with Luca Flores, while still attending the Conservatoire academic teaching. Fascinated by some spectacular virtuosity, his first loves are the bebop keyboard masters of the 50’s (Oscar Peterson, Horace Silver, Bud Powell). However, he also got interested in the stride piano flexible rigour – these influences being still perceptible today.
Rapidly mature, he played with fifteen as a sideman in clubs of Florence and surroundings. Multiplying encounters, diversifying his musical universe with Franck Zappa’s and King Krimson’s scholarly free rock contributions, Bollani decided to live only for music: as soon as he got his Academy “Maestro” diploma, the young pianist (hardly twenty years old) resolutely started a professional career. He played for three years in Italian pop songs bands, accompanying on keyboard popular stars such as the singer Laura Pausini or the rapper Giovanotti. He had then an easy but a little vain life, which may have lasted longer if he did not meet Enrico Rava in 1996. Aware of being in presence of an exceptional talent, the trumpeter advised him to leave the pop song scene and integrate his own band. Bollani agreed and his life as well as his career took a new course.
From then on, his life moved on. Involved in Rava’s world, Bollani, under his new mentor’s influence, opened up to freer jazz forms, playing in concerts and tours, within an intimate duo or in a quintet or even within the framework of a symphony orchestra; from mannerist atmospheres reviving a certain cool and lyrical “jazz dream” to exceptional encounters with free jazz living legends such as Han Bennink or Gato Barbieri…He moreover multiplied encounters in clubs with great American jazz masters (Phil Woods, Lee Konitz, Pat Metheny…), played with most talents of Italian jazz (Franco d’Andrea, Paolo Fresu, Stefano Di Battista or Barbara Casini), got boldly involved in hybrid projects with musicians of the tango world (Richard Galliano) or the electronic music (Hector Zazou!). He therefore rapidly became an unavoidable figure of the transalpine young scene. In 1998, he founded his first own quintet, Orchestra del Titanic, with Antonello Sallis at the accordion, recorded a songs disc with Fausto Maraini’s poems and, while at it, got the “best young talent” prize awarded by the magazine Musica Jazz. A first public and professional recognition, propelling him in the spotlight.
Bollani’s uncommon mature style does appeal – a subtle mixture of structural rigour and distanced humour, of scholarly virtuosity and affected lyricism. Enrico Rava, asked about his pianist’s exceptional qualities, unambiguously speaks of a “phenomenon” with the following precision: “He is a genuine keyboard poet. His technique is one of the most incredible I ever had the opportunity to hear. He amazes me each time he plays…and we have been playing together hundreds of times.”
One could not dream any greater praise, particularly coming from such a historic figure of European jazz.
Greeted from now on by international critics as one of the most promising pianists of his generation, Bollani, in addition to his intense collaboration with Rava (no less than about fifteen records reveal its extreme productiveness), took a new course in his career at the start of the year 2000 by signing with Label Bleu for a series of discs as a leader. This label released then “Les Fleurs Bleues” for a trio with Scott Colley on bass and Clarence Penn on drums (2001), “Montreal Diary/B” for a duo with Rava (2002), “Smat Smat” in solo (2004) and “Concertone” with the Orchestra della Toscana (2005). Those ambitious works reveal, beyond their great formal diversity, an extremely rich and coherent personal musical universe, definitely marked by lyricism, the melody and the song (the pianist willingly admitting the influence of great singers such as Franck Sinatra, Chet Baker or Caetono Veloso) and entirely based on the continuous tension between a sophistication of the composition and a not less strong desire to give free rein to a highly unbridled improvisation, at the risk of upsetting the scholarly elaborated structural balance.
This fundamental schizophrenia between the composer and the pianist – at the heart of Bollani’s musical genius – is to be found in this new album “I Visionari”, which may be his most ambitious and appealing project. Leading a new quintet, resolutely jazz in its orchestration and made up of musicians belonging to the same generation and bound with a strong friendship (the saxophonist Mirko Guerini is a childhood pal), Bollani is inventing a precious and rich music, always accessible and melodic beyond its obvious structural qualities. In a very open and relaxed language, borrowing to the west-coast jazz as well as to cartoon music, Mingus and pop-song, the quintet of the young pianist, occasionally welcoming prestigious guests (the violinist Mark Feldman, the trumpeter Paolo Fresu or the singer Petra Magoni) is signing here a masterpiece full of subtlety and distanced lyricism – definitely propelling the pianist, singer, composer, arranger and leader Bollani in the very restricted circle of musicians with prospects.
Name: Reno Di Matteo
22 rue de Navarin