Review: Stefano Bollani/ Martial Solal

Stefano Bollani/ Martial Solal
(Barbican Hall, 16th November 2011. Part of LJF 2011. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Italian pianist Stefano Bollani told me when I interviewed him in June how much he loves his collaboration as a piano duo with French legend Martial Solal. “He always plays the thing you’re not expecting.” Bollani also told me that “we don’t discuss any set order, it just happens. With a singer, you have to agree a key, we don’t even need to do that.”

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Their onstage conduct at the Barbican seemed to bear out that this wordless communication, with glances and comic gestures, is indeed how it all works. The first words which the two men actually, visibly exchanged onstage last night didn’t happen until they were walking off after Lover Man, which closed the formal set and preceded their three encores, a Hanon/Czerny exercises fantasy pushing around a Schubert Marche Militaire and segue-ing into a blistering account of Ellington’s A-Train ; CharlieParker’s Billie’s Bounce played with four hands at the same piano, and a final, wistful, happy Darn that Dream.

Bollani had started the set with three solo numbers which sounded like a homage to the man about to appear, taking Solal’s stock-in-trade of sketching the contours of tunes and disappearing off into abstaction.

The arrival of Solal onstage demonstrated the contrast. The younger pianist Bollani covers more ground, plays a lot more notes whereas Solal communicates via minimal gesture. But the whole duet enterprise is carried off with panache, and plenty of humour.

The Barbican crowd seemed to enjoy support act Marcin Wasilewski ‘s trio more than I did. My ears were reaching out in vain to hear a pianist like Liam Noble or Tom Cawley, who thinks in narratives, paragraphs or at least in sentences; for a bassist with the ear for intonation of a Rian Vosloo or a Michael Janisch; and for a drummer with the fantasy and the presence of James Maddren.
But such thoughts had soon vanished amid the electricity and the joy of the main act. This was a concert with virtually no audience walk-out between the encores: people wanted to savour it to the last. There seemed to be a broad smile on every audience face after the gig, which, I know for my own part, is definitely still there this morning.

There is as yet no Solal/Bollani duo recording. Bollani’s live duo album with Chick Corea Orvieto is on ECM

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6 replies »

  1. A pretentious review that gives jazz a bad name. Wasilewski is very much his own stylist and was on fine form last night. His music doesn't really benefit from comparision with other stylists that you name drop in your article.

  2. As a regular reader of the excellent London Jazz I couldn't help noticing the reaction from another reader to your comments about Marcin Wasilewski at the Barbican. There are many ways to approach the music – that is one of the joys of jazz, and your site reflects this diversity, which is one of the reasons that makes it so worthwhile returning to. It made me wonder whether your own words were rather hastily assembled and with reflection might be worth reconsidering. While Wasilewski works in a different way to Noble and Cawley, each has very high standards. Maybe your preferences are in one direction, or maybe, on the night, you were not receptive to his music. Perhaps take some time to listen to his trio's new album, or their earlier ones, and you might end up thinking differently!

  3. The Solal/Bollani duets were priceless and you sum up their interaction very well, noting that Solal's exceptional qualities brought out the best in Bollani. And they just loved it – Solal was very relaxed in this company and his brightness and humour permeated their extraordinary set. A great 'double act', more than worthy of capturing in a recording.

    I was impressed also by Wasilewski, I thought he was a tremendous pianist, in the ‘Nordic Jazz’ vein – and his rhythm section were spot on. It was a great set on all counts – execution, balance, material, with great sound quality. For me, a genuine surprise package.

  4. Invited to comment here by Sebastian, presumably in response to my tweet as @owenwords on the night: “Just sat through an impeccably dull set by Marcin Wasilewski trio”.

    Wasilewski's set was nicely played, yes, but lacking in any emotive charge or animating spark, and I found it rather formulaic: an impression reinforced by contrast with the vitally characterful solo and duo performances by Bollani and Solal.

    On a positive note I thought the trio's take on 'Big Foot' was excellent, with Paul Bley's composition really bringing out their best.

  5. Just to say, reading this review and comments, that I feel it genuinely unfortunate for Marcin Wasilewski – or any other pianist in the world, really, to be on the same bill, and therefore reviewed alongside Martial Solal… How could one not be left feeling underwhelmed when, immediately after, presented with the true, profound, genius that is Solal – How?

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