The subtitle of pianist Gianni Lenoci’s A Few Steps Beyond is The Very Last Concert, which it sadly turned out to have been. Lenoci’s performance took place at the Pinocateca d’Arte Moderna in Ruvo di Puglia on 4 September 2019; on 30 September he died at age 56. Lenoci was called “L’anima jazz della Puglia” but he was also an inspired interpreter of the experimental and open-form compositions of postwar avant-garde art music as shown by, for example, the recordings he made of the music of Morton Feldman, Earle Brown, and Sylvano Bussotti. Both sides of his musical personality—the jazz side and the avant-garde “classical” side—are apparent in the six performances on A Few Steps Beyond, which as luck would have it were captured by the small recorder Lenoci happened to place under the piano.
Lenoci’s inventiveness and capacity to recast preexisting structures as open forms are on full display in his performance of, of all things, the old standard All the Things You Are. It’s no easy thing to make of this overly familiar tune an exciting and unpredictable piece of music, but this he does. Lenoci starts with highly elastic and oblique allusions to the song’s harmonic cycles, which he proceeds to drive into increasingly convoluted and inward-turning musical territory. Just when the tension of anticipation—underscored by the urgent rhythm Lenoci maintains throughout—becomes nearly unbearable, a straight reading of the song breaks through, recognition of which registers as a shock after all that came before. Lenoci’s interpretation of Carla Bley’s Ida Lupino is less radical but still demonstrates his ability to transform standing structures in original ways. Working largely through variations on the basic melody, he moves in and out of form by subjecting that main theme to a kind of Cubist presentation from all perspectives, while maintaining it as the piece’s (deliberately flexible) backbone.
A Few Steps Beyond also contains Lenoci’s interpretations of Ornette Coleman’s Lorraine and Latin Genetics, as well as Paul Bley’s Blues Waltz and–in a bit of unintended irony–Gordon Jenkins’ Goodbye. On these performances no less than on the others, Lenoci’s inspired pianism offers a view into a unique musical sensibility that was all-too-soon gone. We are fortunate to have this final concert as a part of his recorded legacy.