Thursday, June 21, 2007

Italian Culture

Last night, the Italian Consulate stressed they only bring authentic originals to represent the best of Italian culture. In this case, it was Stefano Bollani playing at the Italian Cultural Institute and the unveiling of a fragment of a Pinturicchio fresco—a portrait of baby Jesus perfectly framed by three hands (two being those of Mary, the third has been somewhat of a mystery)—at the consulate next door.

Bollani played a highly entertaining set of solo piano, opening up with some serious left hand, bordering on boogie woogie. His witty re-casting of “On the Street Where You Live,” was perhaps the strongest showcase for his talents. Bollani established a strong rapport with the overflowing audience, although his Italian banter was lost on me. Bollani has eclectic ideas and influences, but still swings nicely, making him an effective ambassador for Italian jazz and the ECM label.

The Italian Consulate next door was already quite well appointed, with work by the likes of de Chirico adorning the walls. The addition of a legitimate Renaissance master is pretty impressive. How long it will be there and where it goes next, I’m not clear on, but Bollani will be accessible, with U.S. dates coming up (Baltimore on the 23rd).

Not long ago, Italian jazz musicians were reportedly frustrated with their domestic scene, with artists like Stefano di Battista relocating to the greener pastures of France. However, there seems to be an ongoing Italian resurgence, with veterans like Enrico Rava (with whom Bollani received attention as a sideman) and Gianluigi Trovesi producing some of their greatest work, and younger artists like Bollani, Stefano Battaglia, and Francesco Cafiso infusing fresh energy into Italy’s jazz world.