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Stefano Bollani: Joy in Spite of Everything

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Joy in Spite of Everything, the new album from pianist Stefano Bollani, is beautiful. Gorgeous. Peaceful. Serene. But that’s all it is. There’s no darkness for all that light to bounce off of. Featuring drummer Morten Lund, acoustic bassist Jesper Bodilsen, guitarist Bill Frisell and tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, Joy is a one-note event. There’s nothing to balance out all of the good feelings. What we have too much of here is beauty, but too much of anything is still too much.

The closest we get to tension is the Frisell/Bollani duet “Teddy,” which was inspired by pianist Teddy Wilson. (Bollani wrote all of the compositions on Joy.) The beginning of the track finds the guitarist and pianist exploring what sounds like restrained but eerie free improvising, a relief after so much structure and refinement. Then, when the actual tune emerges, there’s something edgier about the music. Perhaps the players felt liberated by the absence of bass and drums.

Compositionally, Joy is most engrossing on “Easy Healing.” The Caribbean piece is, as one might gather from its title, soothing. And Turner sounds so natural and comfortable in this space; his solo is exultant. “No Pope No Party” is memorable, too. Its melody comes out of Thelonious Monk, and Turner, once again, fits in perfectly. But in general, Joy sounds more or less the same from start to finish.

Originally Published