(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."
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