Stefano Bollani and Hamilton de Holanda

Jazz, Latin

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Saturday 6 June, Hamer Hall

Without a doubt Stefano Bollani and Hamilton de Holanda are both eclectic virtuosos and prolific artists of the highest order.  On first analysis, it is tempting for the jazz aficionado to draw parallels between former pairings of guitar and piano (such as Bill Evans and Jim Hall), but the Bandolim is not a six string guitar, rather, an instrument in it’s own right with it’s own distinct timbre (higher in register than that of a guitar with closer ties to that of a 10 string mandolin).

To the outsider, the pairing of such instruments as the piano and Bandolim may seem unusual; although once a musician begins to approach the caliber of artistry that Bollani and de Holanda have achieved, the ideas conveyed manage to transcend the mediums they use to express their art.

Both share a deep passion for South American music and jazz, but more importantly (from an artist’s standpoint) it was evident through their mutual interaction that they genuinely enjoy each other’s company.

The duo have been playing together since 2009, have toured extensively having released a live album in 2013 through ECM, (Stefano Bollani / Hamilton De Holanda: O Que Sera) which provides an excellent account of the duo’s musical empathy and interplay.

The duo’s repertoire covered a wide range of tunes including Brazilian love songs, waltzes, tangos, original compositions and even a Bee Gees cover (How Deep is Your Love), all of which provided as appropriate vehicles for both musicians to express their unique personality.

From the outset, the high level of interplay was clear. Both players wove around each other with contrapuntal lines that were offset with some melodic passages played in unison. Their approach could be described as slightly reminiscent of the Lennie Tristano school of jazz if it were injected with a good dose of South American Rhythm.

To his credit, Stefano Bollani is a highly animated pianist. Not satisfied with sitting down at the piano, Bollani stands, crouches, and sometimes kneels at the piano while trying to engage the audience with his infectious enthusiasm.

In interviews, Bollani has named both Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum as early influences which is evident through his fluid technique. But Bollani’s approach is a far more percussive one – and not only while pressing the keys of the piano. At certain moments during the concert, Bollani would slap various parts of the body of the piano like a conga drum.

Hamilton de Hollanda is no slouch either. His accompaniment of Bollani was both tasteful and decisive, filling in the right spaces between Bollani’s notes, occasionally punctuating rhythms and phrases at the right moment. While soloing, it is quite obvious de Holanda is familiar with the language of jazz, yet he always manages to stay true to his Brazilian roots.

The string muting techniques employed by de Holanda are something to behold; coupled by his keen use of polyrhythms, the overall effect seems to meld seamlessly with the beautiful textures provided by Bollani.

At times one could be forgiven for thinking the duo might be playing in your living room rather than in a concert hall, as their overall interaction with the audience and general approach to performance came across as quite personal, sincere, and full of humour.

It is this paradox that wins you over. Bollani and de Hollanda are serious musicians who have worked very hard at perfecting their craft, but neither take themselves too seriously. It is this ethos combined with high level artistry that translates into the music to become something far greater than the sum of it’s parts. But the proof as they say is “in the pudding”, and the proverbial pudding came in the form of a very heart-felt standing ovation from the audience.

Special guest reviewer Mikey Chan is one of Melbourne’s foremost session guitarists. His playing appears alongside many of the world’s finest musicians, from Renee Geyer to Jill Scott and Grammy Award-winning producer, M-Phazes.