Francesco Tristano - "Idiosynkrasia" (Idiosynkrasia)
Classical musician plays techno. It’s a tagline tailor made for press releases and marketing blurbs on CD cases and mp3 stores. It also has the ring of a gimmick, the shallow appeal of crossover, of Miles Davis doing hip-hop or The Bad Plus doing dance videos of Milton Babbitt. Sure, it’s musically clever, but is it any good? In the case of pianist Franceso Tristano, the answer, for the most part, is yes.
One reason Tristano succeeds here — and on his previous two solo outings — is that he’s engaged with the actual community of electronic dance music. His previous album, Auricle Bio On, was engineered by Basic Channel head Moritz Von Oswald. He’s performed live with techno legend Carl Craig, and he recorded this album in Craig’s Detroit studio. Throw in mastering by Dubplate & Mastering’s Rashad Becker, and all the ingredients are there. If nothing else, the record sounds great, both sonically and on paper.
Associations, of course, do not a record make, but Tristano manages to deliver his own personal take on classic techno and house, one poised between acoustic and electronic worlds. And, most critically, one where the modern form — the electronic — is clearly in control. The key rhythmic feature of those genres is built into the best pieces here. It’s that tight torque engineered into every last part of a track, from the melody figure and bass line to the drum programming, the feeling that if you remove even one note in a sequence the whole machine will come grinding to a halt. Tristano interlocks his keyboard work on piano, electric keys and synths into whirring, clicking machines fuelled by pulsing riffs and infectious bass runs, with drum machines, live kit and some liquid sequencing added for extra force. There’s very little straight, unadorned piano here, as even the individual tones seem cropped just enough to give them a hard, gleaming edge, acoustic but alien.
In fact, it’s those moments when Tristano reveals himself to be a piano player that weigh down Idiosynkrasia. “Nach Wasser Noch Erde” is a light etude entirely out of place next to the mechanized throb of opener “Mambo,” and “Lastdays” an unnecessary comedown after the one-two punch of the title track and “Fragrance de Fraga.” Even the upbeat “Eastern Market,” with its soul-claps and bright chords, feels a bit too easy, too backward-looking. Techno, after all, has always been about the promise of the future. Tristano understands this, and when he shows it, Idiosynkrasia makes you forget that he’s a piano player, classical or otherwise. He becomes as much machine as man, not inhuman, but beyond human. Techno plays classical musician? That’s more like it.