By Matt Hooke for All About Jazz
The worlds of Italian and Brazilian music meet on Que Bom, pianist Stefano Bollani’s masterful 43rd album. Bollani lets his songwriting do the brunt of the work, leading to an accessible project, that still shimmers with inventive moments. Bollani has a keen melodic sense that makes these songs immediately come alive. The opening song, “Sbucata da Una Nuvola,” is a beautiful display of Bollani’s talents with a two-part melody that begins with quick single notes before moving to chord changes to finish off the phrase.
The happy-go-lucky yet sophisticated atmosphere, highlighted by Bollani’s use of the Cuica, a Brazilian percussion instrument known for a high-pitched squeak resembling laughter, brings to mind the work of pianist Vince Guaraldi, who had a similar ability to make the complicated sound fun. Bollani is not only interested in musical perfection, as he occasionally throws in bits of dissonance, medicine to make the spoonful of sugar taste even sweeter. “II Gabbiano Ischitano,” featuring the tremendous Brazilian cellist Jaques Morelenbaum, excels by being simple. Bollani’s unaccompanied piano maps out the basic chord progression and melody of the piece, before Morelenbaum’s delicate, bowed cello playing comes in. Morelenbaum’s measured and elegant accompaniment is a highlight of the song, sticking out in the mix but never overpowering the other instruments.
One of the attributes of Que Bom that make it work is how Bollani brings in outside elements to his songs, adding variation that keeps the five-piece combo sounding fresh throughout the album’s 1 hour and 12 minute run time. The funky “Uomini e Polli” is assisted by a lively horn section that perfectly complements drummer Jurim Moreira’s syncopated drum pattern. Vocal tracks like “La Nebbia a Napoli,” and “Michelangelo Antonioni” featuring Brazilian legend Caetano Veloso, offer a nice change of pace, adding flavor to the instrumentals surrounding them. Veloso is most known as an architect of the Tropicália movement that fused the avant-garde and Brazilian mainstream, and his constrained vocal performances fit these songs perfectly. He plays to the song, instead of aiming to show off his own virtuosity.
“Michelangelo Antonioni” is reminiscent of Veloso’s experimental roots, his wordless moans getting his message across better than any lyrics could.
Que Bom is a fantastic album that ranks among Bollani’s best, which is saying something considering the amount of music the 46-year-old has made in his career. Come for the beautiful melodies and energetic rhythms, stay for the experimentation.