With its ingenious interaction and breathtaking virtuosity, its playing of deep feeling and improvisational daring, and its moments of high humour, “O que será”, by Stefano Bollani and Hamilton de Holanda makes a great case for the art of the duo. The first audio document of a priority project for both players, this CD was recorded live at the Jazz Middelheim festival in Antwerp in 2012. The musicians’ enthusiasm is contagious: you can hear the audience being swept up by it.
Stefano Bollani, the uniquely gifted Italian pianist, first encountered Hamilton de Holanda, Brazilian master of the bandolim (the 10-string mandolin) on stage at a festival in Bolzano, in South Tyrol, in June 2009. On that occasion they played just two pieces, compositions of Baden Powell/Vinicius de Moreas and Egberto Gismonti, but the empathy between them was immediate and unmistakable. That meeting – which can be seen and heard on YouTube, incidentally – left the players hungry for more. In August 2011, they reunited for their first complete show together, in Ischia, Italy, (working up a full programme of material after de Holanda arrived from Brazil – by air, sea and land – on the afternoon of the performance). The Ischia show established a blueprint for further concerts in Brazil and Europe. Trust and improvisation are the watchwords of this duo, and the decision to record live also reflects their wish to maintain the sense of spontaneity and risk that animates the shows.
Bollani’s love of Brazil is well-known. Several of his previous ECM releases, including the duos with Chick Corea (“Orvietto”) and Enrico Rava (“The Third Man”) and the trio album “Stone In The Water” have incorporated music of Brazilian composers. Amongst many other attributes, the pianist is able to creatively integrate aspects of Brazilian musical culture in an affectionate and original manner. In the encounter with Hamilton de Holanda he is allied with a true representative of Brazil’s musical heritage. Their programme that includes original pieces by both protagonists, as well as a salute to Argentine tango nuevo master Piazzolla, but draws most deeply on the Brazilian greats – Ernesto Nazareth, Tom Jobim, Chico Barque, Pixinguinha – and the rhythms of Choro, Samba, and Baião.
Hamilton de Holanada, who makes his ECM debut here, is a major figure in Brazilian music. Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1976, and raised in Brasilia, he began playing mandolin at the age of 5. Within a year he was playing live gigs and appearing on TV. From 1983 he also studied violin at the Brasilia Music School. Since the 1990s he has moved easily between the worlds of Choro, jazz and transcultural experiments, disinclined to acknowledge genre differences: “The important thing is that it sounds beautiful.” Hamilton’s collaborations with US mandolinist Mike Marshall helped boost his reputation beyond Brazil’s borders, and since then there have been more joint ventures: de Holanda has appeared with Rjchard Galliano, Béla Fleck, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and many others. Meanwhile he has continued to lead his own groups and to issue a steady stream of critically-regarded albums in contexts from solo (“Intimo”) to orchestral (“Sinfonia Monumental”).
Bollani, born 1972, has been no less prodigious. He too, started at five years old, cannot recall a time when he was not playing piano, and the instrument often seems like an extension of his personality and thought processes – a fast-moving mind finding expression in jump-cut music sequences and surreal juxtapositions. He has fairly romped through the idioms, his ECM “Piano Solo” disc characteristically moving from Prokofiev to the Beach Boys via Scott Joplin and the tango, a post-modernist with an admirable reluctance to take himself too seriously. He keeps finding new ways to address the virtuoso’s dilemma: What do you play when you can play anything? Multi-talented, he’s known in Italy also as author of books and as a TV show host; he tours with pop singer Irene Grandi, plays Gershwin at La Scala. And he returns to particular musical constellations that continue to inspire him. Amongst these: the duo with Enrico Rava, the Danish Trio with Jesper Bodilsen and Morten Lund (which recently recorded a new ECM session, augmented by Bill Frisell and Mark Turner). To these special groups add now the exciting project with Hamilton de Holanda. At the end of August and into September Bollani joins de Holanda for another round of concerts in Brazil.