If you are not familiar with the term “ambient chamber music,” let this be album your primer. Acoustic instruments, an up-close and intimate feel, airy construction, potent emotion and unobtrusive electronic treatments. All of it is here on Inside Life, the latest from Bruno Sanfilippo. Over the last several years, Sanfilippo has been nudging himself in this direction, obtaining a bit of distance from his ambient/electronic background and showcasing himself as a masterful pianist and contemporary composer. Through his Piano Textures series and on his last release, the amazing ClarOscuro, he has cemented his reputation in this space. What makes Inside Life so very effective is its apparent simplicity. All tracks feature just Sanfilippo on piano and Julian Kancepolski on cello. Sanfilippo handles electronic augmentation, and does so with a very light hand. Underneath the dramatic and moving duet of “Freezing Point,” he adds a crackling band of static. It’s barely there, somewhere between a distant sound of sleet and the comfortably familiar scratch of old vinyl. It only truly makes itself known in the pauses. On “Camille,” a tribute to composer Camille Saint-Saens, the background is gently haunted by Mariel Aguilar singing a waking-dream aria. It is the sound of memory, or perhaps, in this instance, of the residual influence of its subject. Listen carefully to take in a long drone with the feel of a church organ working through the piece. On this track, too, there is a metallic rattling–again, very subtle–that almost makes this feel like a piece for prepared piano. Like there’s something in the belly, which is probably not the case, but the effect is intriguing. He is alone on “The Place Where Dying Crows,” a piece filled with a sort of stilted cadence and uneasy edge. Long pauses filled with resonance, odd and mildly startling thumps, the sense of a mind trying to work something through–the idea that something is not quite right comes not just from the title, but it permeates the atmosphere on this track. A buzzing drone underscores it, and Sanfilippo ends it with three discordant notes. A very affecting piece. Kancepolski’s support is invaluable here, both for its aching beauty and for heightening the feel of this being a personal performance by an intimate duo. His work on “Camille” is particularly perfect, and he lends soaring lines and a downplayed, repeating bass foundation of pizzicato notes on the title track.
This is a seamless album, with no distinct line between acoustic and organic. It is just a singular, incredible whole, flawlessly balanced and soul-piercingly beautiful. Listen with the lights down low and let it just wash over you. Magnificent.