Is Francesco Tristano a piano virtuoso or sophisticated electronic producer? He's both, of course, a fact that Idiosynkrasia demonstrates in spades. He really comes into his own on this recording with the two sides of his music converging seamlessly and satisfyingly. Adding to that accomplishment is the fact that Tristano also severs the piano's ties to any one genre; obviously the music of classical and jazz informs his style (he was, after all, a Juilliard student in the early 2000s) but his playing on Idiosynkrasia, his third solo album for inFiné, transcends a single style. In some ways, it's a natural progression from the earlier solo albums, 2007's Not For Piano (produced by Murcof) and 2008's Auricle Bio On (in which Moritz Von Oswald figured heavily), and last year's Aufgang, which features Tristano teaming up with Rami Khalifé and Aymeric Westrich. Tristano recorded Idiosynkrasia in the studios of Planet E, Carl Craig's label and the influence of Craig, a long-time companion of Tristano's, is audible throughout, not just in the atmosphere and production style of the album but in the sleek and funky techno and house elements that figure prominently in the tracks. Though the album wasn't recorded in a single, uninterrupted session, it's sequenced so that it appears to do so, with each track flowing into the next, much as how Tristano might perform the album in concert.
After a bright theme opens “Mambo” with a fanfare whose chords echo reverberantly, Tristano obsessively digs into an insistent lower octave rhythm before filigrees of electronic materials seep in, a six-note hi-hat pattern first, dubby flourishes second, and snares and bass drums third. The tune grows increasingly slinky, its rhythms and patterns wiry as the acoustic and electronic elements meld together until the opening theme suddenly re-appears, effecting the transition to the second piece, the ruminative “Nach wasser noch erde,” where the delicate touch of Tristano's playing is heard so powerfully. Patterns build slowly yet insistently as the piano, its density multiplying, undertakes a gradual ascent that eventually reaches a state of brooding elegance until the materials begin to disentangle. “Wilson” charts a funkier course, with breakbeats and a burbling, near-subliminal electronic pattern animating the track and gradually turning it into a churning body-mover. The title cut likewise underlays its piano boogie with a swinging house groove and radiant synthesizer patterns and washes. It's in tracks such as these (not to mention the trippy closer “Hello (Inner Space Dub),” which builds ever so incrementally into a colossal light-storm) that the influence of Craig's studio environment and the Detroit vibe in general most conspicuously seeps into the recording. A soul and gospel feel infuses the clap-driven strut of “Eastern Market,” though an occasional blaze of Moog synthesizer also injects the track with a dose of prog and fusion; “Fragrance de Fraga” similarly straddles jazz fusion and funk in equal measure. It's worth noting that the versatile pianist isn't averse to playing a beatless mood piece either, as the spacious dirge “Last Days” makes clear.I liked this album immediately when I first heard it, but I've grown to appreciate it all the more after having listened to it a great many more times. In blending so smoothly his piano playing into his electronic landscapes, Tristano has accomplished a fusion that many have attempted but all too rarely realized satisfactorily. It's also interesting that in this case it's the piano that's being used to try to push the music forward rather than the more obvious choice of a “futuristic” electronic or synthetic instrument.