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Francesco Tristano - Idiosynkrasia



Given the limitless potential for creative expression implied by today’s electronicmusic production technology, it is perhaps surprising that most output is so, well,conventional. Even genres framed as forward thinking and unbound by convention, suchas techno, IDM or ambient, still fall prey to the internal logics and patterns that producehomogeneity—the word conservative even springs to mind. Not that all music needs to be groundbreaking, of course, but sometimes you do want to listen to something thatsounds like nothing you’ve heard before.

It’s tempting to say that’s what Francesco Tristano’s new album is. Though not quite true, strictly speaking, Idiosynkrasia is creative enough in recombiningand manipulating the source material it draws upon to deconstruct the rigid genreboundaries that perpetuate electronic music’s internal conformities. Perhaps thisshouldn’t be surprising, considering that Tristano is a Juliard-trained concert pianistbest known for covering Detroit classics like “Strings of Life” and “The Bells.” Thatsaid, ‘Idiosynkrasia’ marks a radical departure from the ‘Not for Piano’ covers album.

So what is ‘Idiosynkrasia’ all about? For starters, imagine a collaboration between Masters and Work, New Age pianist George Winston and minimalist Jazz outfit Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin, and you’re getting somewhere. The album opener, “Mambo,” movescarefully arpeggiated synths, pianos and drum patterns around each other like snakes. But as the track fades out, the decidedly un-serpentine piano etude, “Nach WasserNoch Erde” creeps in. This rather gorgeous slice of melancholy, which should feel incongruous with what came before it, somehow seems to flow from it with ease and comfort. On “Wilson,” Tristano channels Nik Bärtsch; on the brief but memorable title track, Steve Reich’s ‘New York Counterpoint’ series. From these lofty heights, Tristano segues into what appears, at first, to be fairly conventional deep house territory. But just as you get comfortable with the idea, “Fragrance de Fraga” morphs into more experimental territory. Then it’s back to late-night funky keys and shuffle beats.

As quirky and fun as the journey is up to this point, it leads to the album’s most awkward moment. Individually, the song “Last days” is another standout: atmospheric, earnest and even haunting. But the strength of the album to this point has been that it is more than just the sum of its various parts. The jarring move from upbeat dance music back to sentimental, reverb-laden piano land makes the former seem out of place, and perhaps even a bit trite. Things work better as the dry pianos and handclaps of “EasternMarket” bring Kenny Dope, Nik Bärtsch and later Steve Reich into the same room.This would have been a fitting conclusion to a very interesting musical journey, but the album’s final track—“Single and Doppio”—breaks up the symmetry. It feels, more or less, like something that had been left on the editing room floor, only to be picked up and tacked on at the last minute, because artists are rarely their own best editors.

All in all, this is a fun and adventurous album, particularly for those with a broad taste for modern music. Indeed, ‘Idiosynkrasia’ is a rich and rewarding listening experience for the open-minded. It’s just also not quite as good as it promises to be early on, something which could have been solved by a little more time editing the final product.

Gustav Brown

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