While it would’ve been easy for jazz pianist Glauco Venier to record an album of solo piano instrumentals, his new album Miniatures (CD, digital) instead has him pairing his piano with percussive metal instruments for a collection of moody instrumentals that, while not perfect, is still rather intriguing.
Photo © Glauco Comoretto / ECM Records
Recorded in 2013, but only coming out now for some reason, Miniatures has Glauco Venier playing his piano as you’d expect from someone recording for ECM: slow and careful, with an almost underlying sadness. On such songs as “Gunam” and “Tiziano’s Painting,” his playing is hauntingly beautiful in its simplicity.
But on many of Miniatures tracks, including the opener, “Ritual,” Glauco Venier augments his methodical piano playing with bits of atmospheric percussion. These come courtesy of sonorous sculptures built by artists Harry Bertoja and Giorgio Celiberti that they made from gongs, bells, and other bits of metal. But while you might expect this to make Miniatures noisy, dissonant, or maybe angry sounding, Venier plays these percussive tones in the same manner as he does his piano: methodically and sparingly.
On most of Miniatures, Glauco Venier uses the percussive bits as texture, while his piano playing forms the foundation of the songs. On “Byzantine Icon,” for instance, Venier uses the percussion to add a bit of rain-sounding atmosphere, while the suite “The Temple – War – Litanies” has some ominous background tones that give the track an even more epic feel. There are even times, such as on the tracks “Madiba” and “Tiziano’s Painting,” where Glauco Venier uses what sounds like wind chimes, a rain stick, and other percussion that gives these songs a slight Japanese feel.
But there are some exceptions to this pattern. On the song “Abstractio,” for instance, Glauco Venier flips things by putting the metallic percussion at the center, with a little piano added for atmosphere. There are also tunes, such as “Serenity” and “No. 40,” where the percussive atmosphere is so slight that you may not notice it unless you crank this up like you would a Metallica album.
Not surprisingly, Miniatures is sometimes reminiscent of Jon Balke’s recent album Warp [my review of which you can read here], which also pairs solo piano with sound effects. Though the similarities are more conceptual than aural. While Balke and Venier both play piano like the keys are hot and can only be touched sparingly and with care, Balke’s augmentations are more electronic in nature, while Venier’s music are more percussive and metallic.
Still, I ended up having the same issue with Miniatures that I had with Jon Balke’s Warp, in that neither of them take their augmentation as far as I’d like. While both albums sometimes recall the movie soundtracks that nine inch nails mastermind Trent Reznor and his composing partner Atticus Ross have done for the films Gone Girl, The Social Network, and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, neither Miniatures nor Warp take things as far as Reznor and Ross. Which isn’t surprising, given that Venier and Balke have jazz backgrounds while Reznor’s and Ross’ are in industrial rock, but I still wish Venier and Balke had gone further with their respective sound experiments. Doubly so with Venier, given how his 2010 album Suona Frank Zappa was his tribute to the titular avant garde rock musician.
Sadly, Miniatures also has a problem that Warp didn’t; a song that ruins the mood, if only momentarily. On the penultimate, and thankfully brief, song “Deep And Far,” Venier awkwardly goes all jumpy and peppy, which runs counter to the rest of the album’s overwhelmingly dark, slow, and moody vibe, and thus sticks out like a sore thumb.
Even with this minor blemish, Glauco Venier’s Miniatures is a mostly impressive and involving collection of jazzy instrumentals. It’s just hard not to wonder what it would’ve been like if he’d take the atmospheric elements even further.