“Stone in the Water”, recorded in New York last October, is the first of Stefano Bollani’s ECM recordings to feature his “Danish Trio”, a group that already has six years of playing experience behind it. The Italian pianist first met bassist Jesper Bodilsen and drummer Morten Lund in 2002 when Enrico Rava won the JazzPar prize. Invited to put together an ensemble for the award shows and a short tour, Rava chose Bollani as one of his fellow soloists, while the prize committee proposed Bodilsen/Lund for the rhythm section. Bollani recalls that he felt an immediate musical connection with the Danes. “We had such a great time and enjoyed playing together so much that we wanted to continue, as a trio, which we did the following year. So at first we toured in Denmark, and then throughout Scandinavia, and then everywhere.”
Material on “Stone in the Water” spans original pieces by Bollani and Bodilsen, tunes by Caetano Veloso and Antonio Carlos Jobim and Poulenc’s “Improvisation 13 en la mineur” – it’s a wide range of material, unified by the gracefulness of Bollani’s touch and the feeling of freedom in the trio playing. The group sound is supple, subtle, flowing, and thoroughly musical. Stefano Bollani: “There is a special chemistry in the trio, difficult to pin down in words. We’re all about the same age [Bollani and Lund were born in 1972, Bodilsen in 1970], we all grew up listening to the same records, have a similar range of interests...that’s part of it. We never have to discuss how to play a piece of music, which in my experience is very unusual, and there’s a shared understanding that the way we play the songs can sometimes be more important than the material itself. One thing I know for sure is that every note I play is going to be listened to, and developed by Jesper and Morten. And that’s rare, because we live in an age of highly-gifted jazz soloists who listen mostly to themselves! In this group, listening is central, and each of us is always caring, in every moment, about what the others are doing. Everybody is always focused on the total group sound. It’s my ideal of how jazz group-playing should be.
“Much of the work that I do is project-directed and about exploring specific musical areas, whether I’m playing with a big band or in duo with Enrico. But this group can be a forum for all kinds of things, almost a synthesis of all my ideas. There are no limits on it: we started out playing American standards and Italian songs. We toured with a programme of Scandinavian material, and every night was different. Now here we are with a programme that’s rather ‘home-made’. It’s mostly our songs”. Those songs are coloured by exposure to other musics. Stefano, for instance, has been listening to a lot of Brazilian song in recent years, and its impact can be felt on his own writing as well as the choice of covers. Caetano Veloso’s “Dom de iludir” is a piece Bollani’s loved for years, and at last year’s Umbria Jazz festival he had the opportunity to perform it with its author. “I was happy when Manfred [Eicher ] chose it as the first piece for the album. Such a beautiful, simple song, it opens the door nicely for our programme here.”
The Poulenc “Improvisation” provides a thematic link to Stefano’s 2005 ECM recording “Piano Solo”: “You’ll recall that that started out intending to be a tribute to Prokofiev before it became something else entirely...It’s music that keeps drawing me back. I’m just in love with that kind of music: I love Poulenc, Prokofiev, Ravel, Debussy and Milhaud – and not only because they are harmonically close to jazz. For me they symbolize a great period in the arts. I also think Poulenc is very under-rated. His may not be the first name that comes to mind when we talk about the innovative composers of the mid-20th century. Nonetheless, he’s very creative, and it’s always a challenge to play his pieces...”
Stefano Bollani was born in Milan, and began playing piano at 6, enrolling in Florence’s Cherubini Conservatory five years later. He made his first professional performances at 15, initially in pop contexts; work with Enrico Rava from 1996 confirmed a deeper commitment to jazz. Since then he has played with numerous musicians including Lee Konitz, Phil Woods, Michel Portal, Gato Barbieri, Richard Galliano etc. ECM recordings with Rava since 2003 – “Easy Living”, “Tati”, “The Third Man” and just recently “New York Days”- and his own album “Piano Solo” in 2006. Non-ECM albums include two with the “Danish trio” with Bodilsen and Lund, “Mi ritorni in mente” and “Gleda”. Bollani’s many awards include the European Jazz Prize 2007. He has written for ensembles of all sizes, collaborated with Brazilian musicians, and published a novel (“La Sindrome di Brontolo”, 2006).
Jesper Bodilsen and Morten Lund both attended Denmark’s Royal Music Academy in Aarhus, and have played together in numerous contexts since then, along the way becoming, as has been frequently noted, the tightest bass/drums team of their generation on the Danish jazz scene. Bodilsen has been playing professionally since 1985 and has performed and/or recorded with Joe Lovano, Tom Harrel, Enrico Rava, Ed Thigpen, John Abercrombie, James Moody, Jeff Tain Watts, Paulo Fresu among others. Lund has performed and recorded with Mike Stern, Curtis Stigers, Cæcilie Norby, Lars Danielsson, Ulf Wakenius, Christian McBride, Avishai Cohen, Chris Minh Doky, Silje Neergaard, Viktoria Tolstoy, Anders Jormin, Bobo Stenson, Lars Jansson, Bob Mintzer, Tom Harrel, Johnny Griffin, Phil Woods, Etta Cameron, NHØP, and many others. Boldilsen and Lund have each appeared on around 100 albums. “Stone in the Water” is their first for ECM.