When pianist/composer Gianni Lenoci died last year at age 56, improvised music lost a major voice. Lenoci earned conservatory degrees in piano performance and electronic music, but he also studied improvisation with pianists Mal Waldron and Paul Bley. He played with many of the great improvisers, among whom were Steve Lacy, Roscoe Mitchell, Markus Stockhausen, Enrico Rava, and John Tchicai, but the improviser with whom he had perhaps the deepest connection was soprano saxophonist Gianni Mimmo. On The Whole Thing, the uncanny chemistry Lenoci and Mimmo shared manifests itself in a single, fifty minute-long improvisation recorded in May 2019 in Lenoci’s hometown of Monopoli, Apulia.
The excellent rapport between Lenoci and Mimmo is apparent from the first note. The music is always assured and imbued with purpose—and even though it was completely improvised, it moves with an implicit sense of structure that always seems to know exactly where it needs to go next. The two voices range over a variety of ambiences including an extroverted expressionism, the reserved abstraction of a dynamically controlled atonality, and a quiet introspection. Both Lenoci and Mimmo are fluent in the two major modern musical languages of the postwar classical and jazz avant-gardes. Lenoci’s pianism is highly chromatic, often fragmented and always precise. His sound here as elsewhere is permeated by the phrasing and textural sensibility of classical experimentalism—no surprise, since he was a noted interpreter of New York school composers Morton Feldman and Earle Brown, important works of whose he recorded and released. Mimmo’s playing is, as always, liquidly lyrical and marked by a strong sense of melodic continuity and a refined tone.
The Whole Thing ends on a contemplative note that carries a striking poignancy. For, only four months after the recording was made, Lenoci was dead. This album is a remarkable memorial to that remarkable talent.