There is something comforting about starting the new year with a Bruno Sanfilippo release. January 1, 2018 saw the release of the single “Doll” followed by the albums “Unity” and “inTRO – Remastered and Expanded”. For January 1, 2019 Sanfilippo unveils his new album “Pianette” which includes “Doll”.
“Pianette’ consists of a collection of solo piano compositions inspired by dreams and the bucolic fantasy of mechanical toys, the dolls, the essence of the circus and the puppets.”
In previous reviews I have touched on Sanfilippo’s history and importance. At the age of 53 he shows no sign of slowing down and is able to balance being a prolific artist with being a consistently good one as well.
From the outset with the title track, Sanfilippo introduces a rich piano sound, one that has the starkness of the instrument removed, giving a slightly foggy, cloaked, but warm feel. The title track is romantic in its playing with Sanfilippo creating tones that are both deep, but also shimmering. Some solo piano pieces can use repeating structures or motifs to tell their story. With “Pianette” Sanfilippo has taken the listener on a journey while retaining small pieces of repeating motifs a signposts of the journey.
“Doll” the track is a meditative rolling piece that has a beautiful tone alongside its controlled playing that, while conveying an intention it is never forceful nor laid back. There is an organic feel to it with the slight sound of the parts of the piano (possibly hammers or dampers – being a non musician I can only guess). There is a certain degree of romance to the music, but also a feeling of hope. At no times is it melancholic, but just a pleasure to listen to. The feeling is of a musician in control of their art and this ease that he has comes across in the enjoyment for the listener.
“La Mariposa” picks up the speed and intent with long fluid lines before mixing with parts of sublime beauty and expressive playing. The feeling of the playing feels like moving from contemplation to whole-hearted joy.
“Marionette” at times sounds like piano and strings duo, but that is probably just the mics picking up the sound of the piano strings. With this track Sanfilippo attacks the piano, but not in a violent way. Some piano pieces such as this benefit from the artist fully committing themselves to the piece and with “Marionette” Sanfilippo does that. The weight and pressure applied to the keys results in a track that is insistent, emotive and follows a strong narrative with Sanfilippo’s playing emphasising the feeling embedded within the piece.
“Paloma” has a kind of swagger in the playing as if the music is moving side to side, buffeted by waves. I get the feeling of improvisation in the piece because of the way it moves. It could be that the subject to which it refers to is one of a distant memory and the movement of the piece indicates the mists of time and the effect memory plays upon people. By the end of the track the playing has become more focused and without the swagger of the opening. Possibly the memories have become more pronounced?
“Multicolour” feels like the listener is transported back in time to a more innocent period. A nice balanced mixture of hope and melancholy comes through in the playing, with the sound having an almost echoic quality and the piano feeling like it’s in a room by itself. The progressions are rhythmic and playful with a feeling of Sanfilippo being so comfortable that the music is playing itself.
“Empty Circus” and the following track “Tin Soldiers” shows a depth and control to the playing. By utilizing space and timing the mood that feels deeply introspective is held perfectly allowing for maximum impact. The music has a gentle rolling, flowing feel with a combination of fragility and strength being shown at different parts of the track. By making the piece minimal, Sanfilippo is able to extract maximum feeling from it.
“Wooden Toys” continues the romance heard throughout the album with a piece that sounds like a look back to a childhood with affectionate feelings. The music makes me feel like it is a balance of affection for a childhood toy mixed with the slight sadness that returning to such a fond time and place cannot happen.
“Dreams of an Elephant” sounds like a fairy tale. The tones of the piano are fragile and shimmering. The way the piece moves through its movements with a recurring theme gives it a cinematic and could be used in a nature documentary. It’s the kind of piece where you can look at the music and without a doubt state that the composer is adept at expressing a narrative through notes.
“ClarOScuro Solo Piano Version” sees a stripped back and shorter version of the track that appeared on the album of the same name. Minus the strings the track has the same sweeping beauty, but the stripped back nature has you focusing wholly on the piano. While the strings are missing there is still an epic feel to the track, which is dripping in emotion. The meaning behind the title is a reference to in art the use of contrasts between light and dark. This comes across in the music with its balance of deeper tones and light fragile ones interacting throughout the piece.
“Goodness” is a four-minute mini epic that nicely brings the collection to completion. Feeling like it has a post rock structure more than a modern classical one, it is a moving, winding piece of solo piano that takes you on a journey. The pacing and at times minimal playing elevates the piece and provides the contrasts for the music when Sanfilippo is in full flight. While the previous track was a reduction of sorts with the stripping back of the string section, this particular track is a piece that you could see being re-worked and expanded it on which would further increase the pleasure you get out if the piece. This is the type of track best suited for the end of a record as it leaves the listener in a good place with an expectation of where the artist will take them next.
Analog mastered by Ian Hawgood with stunning package art by Larissa Kulik, with additional graphic design and layout by Nikki Snow, as well as art direction by Ximena Contreras, this album will not disappoint fans of Bruno Sanfilippo. I recommend listening in small batches to enjoy the beauty of the album. This album is available on CD/Digital with Sheet Music also available for those so inclined or talented.