Piano Solo reflects a new direction for the ECM label, an incursion into Italy for both talent and recording studio sites. Recently ECM has released albums by Enrico Rava, Stefano Battaglia, Gianluigi Trovesi and now Stefano Bollani. Musically, the Italian players have enhanced the ECM catalog. Sonically, the Italian studios and engineers have not.
But music always comes first, and some of the most talented pianists in jazz are now coming out of Italy: Bollani, Battaglia, Enrico Pieranunzi, Danilo Rea, Riccardo Arrighini. The most difficult to peg is Bollani, in whom manic Frank Zappa tendencies coexist with deep romanticism. He can spill dense, disparate, witty, spontaneous free-forms (“Impro” I through IV, “Buzzillare”). He can also trace “For All We Know” in single notes that become one of the quietest, most rapt, most achingly poignant interpretations of that song ever recorded. “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans” is a timely, sober meditation—both a celebration and lament.
What makes Bollani exciting is that, from moment to moment, his wild imagination is impossible to anticipate. He might choose anything (“Maple Leaf Rag,” Brian Wilson’s “Don’t Talk”) and take it anywhere—blind alleys, redundant self-indulgence or breakthroughs to new forms of lyricism. His future could be fascinating.