Francesco Tristano: Idiosynkrasia (inFiné)
Kompakt owner and techno guru Wolfgang Voigt released an album of piano-centered electronic tracks earlier this year, sounding slightly akin to revoicing existing sequencer tracks with all piano sounds, and despite it having a certain curious appeal, it wasn’t my cup of tea. Pianist Francesco Tristano’s newest full-length of electro-acoustic pieces based largely around his axe of choice is a distinctly different beast. It’s apparent immediately that Tristano is a pianist at heart and that any of the electronics that were used to sequence or enhance his pieces here are supporting cast members, whereas Voigt is a techno producer at heart. The main difference is not necessarily in musicality, although Tristano also excels in that category, but in timbre and technique. Tristano knows the instrument inside and out. He knows how touch, dynamics and acoustics will affect the flavor of the sound, and he understands how combining these in various ways can cause tension and drama in a way that’s consistently quite compelling. Despite being piano-focused for most of its melodic sounds, Tristano isn’t afraid to be liberal with programming and percussive sounds; opener “Mambo” sets the tone well with a healthy marriage of syncopated drumming, synth sounds and an undulating staccato piano bassline in 7/8 time. Select tracks are straightforward piano pieces, like “Nach Wasser Noch Erde” which has some of the cyclical drama of Philip Glass’s piano works (without being so predictable), and “Lastdays” which is a gentle ballad not without unexpected details sprinkled in. But at other times, Tristano isn’t afraid to throw down the house gauntlet, like on the title track which is positively radiant, or “Fragrance De Fraga” which follows it up. In these tracks, the spirit of the piano lives within the track without dominating it sonically; I love that Tristano avoided the cliche of the house piano riff altogether, because there’s enough piano to go around on this album without stating the obvious. “Wilson” and “Eastern Market” emphasize the piano more within its own swaggering mid-tempo house frame of reference, with a jazzy technique that lends them a bright, lively sound. Tristano keeps himself and his listeners on their toes with a pretty wide variety, but it works quite well as a journey from start to finish. Even by the time the last couple of tracks come on, it’s still able to engage and surprise with the strange syncopation of “Single and Dopppio” and the ultra-long jaunty-cum-space-odyssey closer “Hello – Inner Space Dub.” Unusual in its dexterity and versatility, Idiosynkrasia is well worth a listen for any interested in the outer limits of house music or a broad listening experience.