AMN Reviews: Gianni Lenoci & Gianni Mimmo – Reciprocal Uncles: The Whole Thing [Amirani Records AMRN063]

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.

Daniel Barbiero

Gianni Lenoci, RIP

Pianist/composer Gianni Lenoci died at age 56 on Monday evening, 30 September 2019. The conservatory-trained Lenoci, who obtained degrees in performance and electronic music, taught performance, composition and improvisation at the Conservatorio “Nino Rota” in Monopoli, Apulia, Italy. He was active in improvised music, having studied with Mal Waldron and Paul Bley, and played with many leading figures in jazz and European improvisation among whom were Gianni Mimmo, Markus Stockhausen, John Tchicai, Enrico Rava, Roscoe Mitchell, and Steve Lacy. As a performer of modern and contemporary music he specialized in the work of the New York School composers, particularly Morton Feldman, whose “For Bunita Marcus” he recorded for Amirani Records, and Earle Brown, a selection of whose compositions for piano he also recorded for Amirani. Lenoci’s own 2003 electronic composition “Notturno frattale” won the International Prize of the Società Italiana di Informatica Musicale.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Gianni Lenoci / Earle Brown – Selected Works for Piano and/or Sound-Producing Media [Amirani AMRN 054]

Relative to his New York School associates John Cage and Morton Feldman, Earle Brown (1926-2002) tends to be overlooked both as a composer and as someone who helped reimagine the relationship between composition and performance. But his work with graphic and indeterminate scores, composed in the 1950s, helped define a concept of composition as an open-ended—he liked to use the word “mobile”—process consisting in the dynamic exchange of creative energy between composer and performer. Brown described these scores, exemplified by the FOLIO collection, as “ambiguous but implicitly inclusive” systems which, with the active participation of the performer, would stimulate an engagement with sound through its multiple parameters. Beyond their capacity to elicit a highly creative response from the performer, Brown’s graphic scores—the single-page December 1952 best known among them—are elegant, and elegantly spare, works of visual art in their own right.

The Pugliese pianist Gianni Lenoci has had an interest in Brown’s work for at least a decade, having obtained from the Earle Brown Foundation some scores for study. Like other performers before him, Lenoci, active in jazz and improvised music, was attracted to Brown’s work at least in part because of Brown’s own background as an improvising jazz trumpeter. Unlike a composer like Cage, who long denied the role of improvisation in the interpretation of his own indeterminate scores, Brown fully acknowledged that improvisation was the latent content implicit in his graphic and modular work. Lenoci’s Selected Works for Piano and/or Sound-Producing Media, the recording of which was supported by a grant from the Earle Brown Music Foundation, presents the pianist’s realizations of ten of Brown’s compositions.

Lenoci’s piano performances are exquisite—hearing them, one can imagine sound as the material crystallization of time. The pieces from FOLIO treat sound as consisting in a collection of quanta–a series of brief, discrete points in time defined by their sudden eruption, limited duration, and inevitable dissipation. Moving through the FOLIO sequence these events gradually become longer in phrasing or simply hang in the air, blending into one another—helped, in the case of December 1957 52, by an electronic delay or loop. In contrast to these piano performances, Lenoci’s interpretation of Four Systems is a thicker-textured thing–all electronic scuff and rush. The closing piece, Twenty-Five Pages, is a shimmering kaleidoscope of pianism that never loses momentum throughout its entire twenty-five minute length.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Gianni Lenoci & Francesco Cusa – Wet Cats [Amirani AMRN052]

41EEaFYzc2L._SS500Wet Cats is a single, nearly hour-long improvisation by Italian musicians Gianni Lenoci and Francesco Cusa. Lenoci, whose background includes studies with Paul Bley and Mal Waldron, plays piano and prepared piano and a bit of wood flute at the very end, while Cusa plays drums. Although they are an ensemble of only two, they fill out a broad spectrum of audio space partly by virtue of the nature of their instruments and partly by virtue of their intelligent playing. Lenoci is sensitive to the piano’s percussive qualities as well as its coloristic effects. He’s capable of taking the music into surprising places, shifting smoothly from agitated, abstract atonality to romantic or bluesy implied chord progressions. Cusa’s drumming is energetic when drive is needed and restrained when the music takes a reflective turn. He is as capable of playing a free pulse beyond barlines as he is able to lay down a solid rock beat. The interaction between the two is assured and seamless; given the quality of their collaboration it comes as no surprise that Lenoci and Cusa are able to maintain a taut focus over the entire course of the performance.

Daniel Barbiero