Italian pianist Stefano Bollani to play Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 April, 2015, 10:39pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 April, 2015, 10:39pm

Italian pianist Stefano Bollani, who played last year's Cotai Jazz & Blues Festival in Macau, is back a week from tomorrow, but this time playing in Hong Kong at Youth Square Y-Theatre as part of the Jazz World Live Series 2015.

Although Bollani, arriving here after gigs in Tokyo and Kyoto, has made many of his albums in partnership with other musicians, he is particularly acclaimed for his solo performances.

These are sometimes compared to Keith Jarrett's, but probably mostly because of their affiliation with the ECM label. Jarrett's musical imagination, when performing unaccompanied, conjures up improvisations of epic length. On the other hand, Bollani - who in addition to being a classically trained jazz musician has played his share of sessions and shows for Italian pop stars - likes to be concise.

Art Tatum is probably more of an influence than Jarrett, along with Bill Evans and Fats Waller. Like another hero to whom he has paid recorded tribute, Frank Zappa, Bollani also thinks there is room for humour in music, and believes in putting on a show.

A melodic player, much of whose music is accessible to non-jazz fans, he is equally at home in the edgier world of the avant garde, and has maintained a long association with trumpeter Enrico Rava, who persuaded him to concentrate full time on jazz at a time when he was making a good living as a pop pianist.

Other notable musicians with whom he has performed on record or in concert include Chick Corea, Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny.

A love of Brazilian music prompted him to record a tribute album to Antonio Carlos Jobim, and he has also explored the music of other Brazilian composers on his 2008 Carioca album.

Although he now devotes his energies primarily to jazz, Bollani also performs as a classical soloist with symphony orchestras, and is a published novelist, and a television and radio broadcaster. A talented impressionist and natural comedian - and a man who likes talking to audiences - Bollani's local performance is unlikely to take the form of an earnest recital.

"Jazz music is exactly made of the present tense. I want to go there," he says. "If I want to improvise, and play a chord which is a strange chord, I play a strange chord. I want to sing a song, I sing a song. I want to play a popular song from the '20s, I do it. I want to play some Brazilian music even if I'm not Brazilian! You know, just live your own music."

Bollani appears at Youth Square Y-Theatre at 8.15pm on April 27.

Another gig worth catching, which will also contain elements of pop, jazz and classical music but can't be definitively categorised as any of those things, is an appearance at Grappa's Cellar this Saturday by Shaolin Fez.

A 12-piece band led by Hong Kong Philharmonic double bassist Sam Ferrer, and fronted by singer Jennifer Palor, the band are presenting a show titled Chandelier, in which they will interpret recent pop hits, film soundtrack music and original material in their own idiosyncratic way.

Ferrer's arrangements and orchestrations for this show are apparently a little darker, more minimalist and less retro in tone than for some previous performances. The film music this time comes from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon rather than the James Bond series.

Well-known local jazz musicians participating, apart from Palor, include trombonist Ben Pelletier, trumpeter John Campo and guitarist Andrew Cheung.

Take Three

Three recorded highlights from Bollani's career.

  • Piano Solo (2007, ECM): not Bollani's first album of solo piano performances, but his debut for ECM, where he appears to have made himself comfortably at home. His original compositions rub shoulders with Brian Wilson's lovely Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder) and standards including Maple Leaf Rag, Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans? and On the Street Where You Live, as well as a theme by Prokofiev.
  • Orvieto (2011, ECM): a live duet album with Chick Corea (recorded in the Italian city of Orvieto, at the 2010 Umbria Winter Jazz Festival). The piano duo format suits both musicians well and as well as joint improvisations each pianist leads the other through original compositions and interpretations of standards by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Miles Davis and Fats Waller, among others.
  • Joy in Spite of Everything (2014, ECM): one of two albums released in 2014 under Bollani's name, the other being Sheik Yer Zappa, a Frank Zappa tribute. On this recording Bollani realised a long-cherished ambition to play with guitarist Bill Frisell, with whom he shares, among other things, a great admiration for the films of Buster Keaton.