A Closer Listen
The phrase that comes to mind while watching Bruno Sanfilippo play the piano is “deceptively simple”. One thinks, “that doesn’t look so hard”. Then the right hand moves up an octave, the playing grows more complex, and one’s initial impression is revised. While watching the video for “Absenta”, one also gains an appreciation for the artist’s approach: patient, tender, melancholic. The space between notes becomes as important as the notes themselves.
The fact that Sanfilippo has been composing for over twenty years is incredible by itself, as most of the artists we review have a much shorter shelf life. Not only is Sanfilippo still recording, he’s continuing to expand his palette. ClarOscuro arrives on the heels of Piano Textures 1, 2 and 3, which seemed to be his magnus opus until the new disc dropped. This time around, he’s joined on many tracks by Manuel del Fresno (violin) and Per Bardagi (cello). These alternate with soft, pure piano pieces, providing a meaningful contrast. The tinges of electronica present on earlier works have largely been dropped – a good thing as such forays often grow dated, while orchestral music tends to be timeless.
The title track seems to indicate that Sanfilippo is following the lead of artists such as Olafur Arnalds, creating a resume fitting for film. The dynamic contrast of this piece is exquisite, as the piano holds the middle ground between the high and low strings. Multiple melodic lines converge and withdraw, allowing the keys to dominate despite the fuller arrangement. The darker “Luciana” appeared on our ACL Singles Chart in May and possesses a completely different timbre, wistful and ominous all at once, a sign that the composer is able to shift moods with ease. The same holds true for “It happens on the ship”, which flirts with abstraction, building suspense between slow surges of minor key melody. But the set piece is the nearly ten-minute “The movement of the grass”, graced by subtle electronics that suggest wind on wheat. The piano notes are as sparse as seeds in a gentle breeze, impressionistic rather than overt, an honest reflection of the album’s title and the artist’s approach.