Piano Textures 4 by Bruno SanfilippoRelease date: December 2, 2016
It’s been out for a little while now, but there are few better ways to purge the audio clutter of party music, end-of-year lists and Christmas gifts, or to cleanse the aural palette for a new year than by bathing in Bruno Sanfilippo’s austerely beautiful pieces. Piano Textures 4 may have the opposite of an evocative title, but the composer’s music is anything but cold and clinical.
The nine nameless pieces are tightly composed and precisely played, constructed with minimal means (piano, a few found sounds, some barely perceptible but very effective electronic elements) for maximum effect. Each composition perfectly encapsulates a specific mood or emotion, transmitting strangely familiar feelings without ever resorting to anything as extrovert as melodrama (or even drama). That’s not to say the music itself is drained of emotion; it’s just that those emotions – though piercingly vivid in their evocation – are in themselves essentially quiet, if deep; melancholy reflection, regret and tenderness, rather than anything more extreme.
It’s a very embracing, quietly magical piece of work. Although refreshingly minimalist in their conception, Sanfilippo’s compositions are not bare exactly; the beautifully clear piano is enveloped in a limpid atmospheric swathe of gentle reverberation and augmented by the aforementioned unobtrusive accompaniments, most notably warm, rich bass tones, a hint of quietly percussive electronica and occasional ethereal sweeping/soaring notes, adding their own otherworldly colour to the music. What makes this delicate music so special though, is that despite all its soothing qualities, Piano Textures 4 isn’t a womblike psychic withdrawal from reality; this is a modern, urban album and the atmospheres here are of deserted streets in the early morning, flat grey days and weak sunlight reflected on canals. It’s lovely; but it’s the loveliness of the mundane and everyday.
The individual tracks are fairly varied, but the overarching feeling of somewhat fragile contemplative restraint makes it flow like a soundtrack to some low-key Ibsen-esque existential drama; and therein lies both its weakness and strength. Piano Textures 4 is a beautiful, moving album, so much more than the set of academic exercises its (otherwise apt) title possibly suggests, but it is also something less than a record for all occasions. There’s nothing wrong with that of course; even if the times when you want to clean out your head and wallow in a feeling of withdrawn gentleness are restricted to post-holiday, post-binge hangovers, Bruno Sanfilippo has produced an album – indeed a discrete sound-world -that can take its place alongside similarly specialised releases by composers like Max Richter and Harold Budd and get you where you need to be.