Bruno Sanfilippo: Piano Textures 4

It's easy to be dismissive of series recordings; after all, one muses, how many volumes in a given series are truly necessary before irrelevancy sets in, with each installment merely recycling ideas others have already sufficiently explored. Upon receiving a new volume of piano textures by Bruno Sanfilippo, the question naturally arises: what can a fourth set possibly offer that hasn't already been thoroughly addressed in the other three; and the fact that the nine tracks are titled with Roman numerals feeds into such questioning, the thinking being that the decision reflects indifference on the composer's part, as if he couldn't be bothered to muster the energy to give the pieces proper titles.

Yet all such questioning comes to an abrupt and resounding halt the moment the music begins flooding the room with its exquisite sounds, at which point it becomes clear that Sanfilippo has invested the forty-three-minute recording with the same kind of meticulous care and sensitivity he brought to the other installments. And as far as titling is concerned, one similarly begins to suspect that the choice is not so much a sign of indifference but simply a desire on Sanfilippo's part to let the listener develop responses without being cued interpretively by the composer. Recorded at Onix II Studio in Barcelona in early 2016, the release is the fourth in a project initiated in 2007.

On these nine delicately rendered exercises in piano minimalism, Sanfilippo repeatedly shows himself to be artful in the way he complements the acoustic timbres of the keyboard with a variety of electronic atmospheres and effects. No enhancement feels arbitrary chosen or gratuitously added; each sound helps realize the composer's intended effect and desired mood. At times the treatments in play are so subtly applied, they almost go unnoticed, such as the way reverberations bleed off of the piano's notes during the impressionistic third setting. In other cases, the non-piano effects captivate the attention for being so unusual, a case in point the fourth, where soft, synthesizer-like siren tones rise and fall in the distance, their emergence seemingly triggered by the piano chords.

Sanfilippo keeps things interesting throughout by varying the moods and sound design. Whereas the wistful fifth exudes the character of a sentimental ballad, others are ponderous and brooding exercises in classical elegance. In such cases, his command of melody and compositional form is especially noticeable, and as over-used as the reference is, it's well-nigh impossible to ignore how much the ninth setting suggests the kind of thing Harold Budd and Brian Eno produced decades earlier on Ambient 2 (The Plateaux of Mirror) and The Pearl. Regardless, one imagines Sanfilippo would be happy to have his name mentioned in such company.

December 2016