Splasc(h) CDH747.2

Improvising pianists of this century have a more difficult task facing the music than many of their predecessors. Not only must they strive to play something different, but also to play it in a distinct fashion.

Perhaps that’s why the number of performers who experiment with some form of prepared pianos is growing in jazz as well as so-called New music. Doctoring the strings with balls, dampers, wood blocks and the like doesn’t necessarily have to produce an unpalatable sound however. On this session, split between work on the prepared and standard keyboard, Alberto Tacchini at times relies on the novelty of the presentation to put flesh on the skeleton of his ideas.

Milan-based Tacchini is a close associate of percussionist Tiziano Tononi, especially on the duo’s GEOMETRICS, the latter’s tribute to director Gillo Pontecorvo and WE DID IT, WE DID IT, a massed orchestral salute to Rahsaan Roland Kirk. But he’s also had more traditional gigs with locals and the likes of American expatriate altoist Charlie Mariano.

Thus the performance of material on this solo disc relates much more to the work of earlier, non-mechanized jazz trail blazers like Cecil Taylor, Bill Evans and Lennie Tristano, then the sort of austere conservatory inventions favored by pianists who play through composed work. In fact, notwithstanding the title, Tacchini is often more impressive on his non-prepared instrument. “Flies”, for instance, finds him sashaying from barbed, hesitant Tayloresque block building to flowing, nuanced right handed chords that sound as if they’re coming from a more muscular Evans..

Even better is his two-handed work on “DNA (Dangerous Narcotic Alchemy)”, an enigmatic title if there ever was one. Reminiscent of some of the performances on 1961’s landmark THE NEW TRISTANO, like the American pianist Tacchini has figured out how to play two distinct lines at once — one in the bass clef and he other in the treble. Soon the main theme appears as a low-pitched continuo, with right-handed feints and jabs decorating it, as the entire composition gets louder then softer and vice versa.

Bellicose “Warriors” produces a mental picture of the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” sequence in Walt Disney FANTASIA. As what could be prepared strings jangle on top of the line, a sustained foot pedal accelerates the bottom feeding sounds. You can almost see Mickey Mouse armed only with a broom trying unsuccessfully to sweep the rising water back into the sea, as near silence vies with exploding percussive chords that build up to an atmosphere of unrelenting dread.

“Labyrinth, a suite for prepared piano”, takes up tracks six to 10 and throughout you can observe the keyboardist put to use techniques separate from the conventional instrument. Strongly mechanical, but with an agenda that appears to be almost fundamental at times, you simultaneously hear the keys being depressed and strings internally manhandled. Shamanistic rituals may be taking place among the ivory, wood and steel strings as plucks are succeeded by what could be the far off tolling of bells and silence vies with woody internal sonar responses or the rolling of a small rubber ball between the strings. There’s even a point in which the preparation appears to transform the instrument — recorded in Tacchini’s home — into a harpsichord or a spinet of centuries before.

Unfolding chords and echoing notes characterize Tacchini’s playing here, proving that he can easily carry off a solo session with the same aplomb he brought to earlier collaborations.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Étude 2. Flies 3. Vertigo 4. Catched 5. Reverie Labyrinth a suite for prepared piano: 6. Sliding into a maze… 7. Walk! 8. Mumble, Mumble (Think it over!) 9. Walk! 10. Madness 11. DNA (Dangerous Narcotic Alchemy) 12. Warriors 13. Au revoir

Personnel: Alberto Tacchini (piano, prepared piano)