Lorenzo Masotto: Seta
Alfa Music Records

When Italian composer and pianist Lorenzo Masotto (b. 1979) begins Seta with “Moon,” a beautiful classical setting for piano and strings, and follows it with the equally lovely title track, a touchingly melancholic solo piano piece, one expects that the eight that follow will explore similarly exquisite variations on that neo-classical theme. After all, Masotto is a conservatory-trained pianist who's performed in multiple contexts, including concerts he and fellow pianist Stefania Avolio have given for four hands and two pianos of music by Piazzolla, Rachmaninoff, Brahms, and Liszt, and Masotto even once performed in a concert at Liszt's home.

But such an expectation is dashed when the third piece arrives. Without sacrificing any of the refinement that characterizes the opening tracks, “L'impressionista” relocates the album within a luscious noir-jazz context, with piano, strings, and brushed drums augmented by trumpet player Fabrizio Bosso, who elevates the setting with a ravishing muted solo performance. And in a piece that would no doubt delight Wynton Marsalis, “Improvviso” similarly surprises in the way it pairs elegant piano playing with the bluesy outpourings of trombonist Mauro Ottolini, whose muted wail conjures memories of the early Duke Ellington Orchestra.

A further investigation into Masotto's background reveals that such diversity could have been anticipated. Yes, classical music is central to his professional world (and an especially melodic brand at that), but so too are other musical genres: in 2010, he developed an experimental project called The Masks of Clara (featuring him on piano and bass, his sister Laura on violin, and Bruce Turri on drums), and recently he's been working on jazz-electronic material with Avolio, Turri, and bassist Matthew Vallicella, as well as an experimental duo project with saxophonist Luca Donini.

The bright “Kasparov - Karpov” offers an expertly rendered sampling of allegro piano playing that suggests Masotto's absorbed the jazz artistry of someone like Keith Jarrett as much as he has the classical canon. Listen closely and you might even hear a trace of “Rabo de Nube (Tail of the Tornado)” (composed by Silvio Rodríguez and featured on Dream Keeper, the 1990 album by Charlie Haden and the Liberation Music Orchestra) in “Olio su tela.” In addition, there's the lovely piano-and-strings reverie “Lilium,” and “Gea” even threads electronic treatments into its piano-centric design.

Interestingly, while all of the material on Seta was composed by Masotto, the credits don't identify him as a pianist on the recording. Instead, Avolio is listed, while violinist Laura Masotto, violist Marco Mazzi, violoncellist Eleuteria Arena, trumpeter Bosso, trombonist Ottolini, and drummer Turri also appear. To say that Seta is an easy collection to warm up to is a huge understatement. As a composer, Masotto excels at writing elegant, melodically driven pieces, and though they also impress on technical grounds, technique is always used in service to the composition in question.

September 2015