The sound of the acoustic piano is so evocative. It is a percussion instrument, so perhaps it harkens us back to the hand-drumming that pounded deep in our bodies from ancient times. Or perhaps the brilliant harmonics engage with a soulful part of ourselves beyond our understanding. Or maybe we heard that lovely sound and connected it with a story from our childhood that continues to ring true throughout our lives.
The publicity team for Paolo Cognetti approached me regarding his first solo album. Because I appreciate Cognetti’s compositions and piano technique, I accepted an advanced copy of the album for this review. You can listen and download from “all digital stores” beginning 2nd June, 2017.
I wrote my review prior to reading Cognetti’s own notes on each piece. My intention was to respond solely to the music. You will certainly benefit from reading these notes once the label makes them public. I’ve read them now and they certainly changed my sense of several of the pieces.
Some will say: “I thought you only reviewed independent artists?” It’s true. Cognetti is signed with a label. I’m making this first step because I am fond of Cognetti’s style and as a way to broaden my connections with musicians and fans around the world.
Paolo Cognetti starts with the sound of the piano. Every piece of music on his album, “Rinascita“, is a composition on this instrument. So, from the first notes, this is an evocative collection of sounds and stories delivered in musical form.
Some overall review notes: Form in music is a sign of craft. Cognetti has a carefully constructed form he often uses in these compositions. I could call it theme and variation with bridge and theme repetition, but even that would be over-simplified. Still, I think you’ll hear what I mean as you listen to this album.
Just as importantly, as a performer, he has a carefully practiced piano technique. Perhaps most impressively, Cognetti creates musical poems that evoke feelings and internal stories in me as I listen. I wonder if they will call up something similar in you when you listen.
- The first track has the same title as the album: Rinascita (“Rebirth”). A piece longer than six minutes immediately gives the impression that this is not a pop album. And the first minute assures us of that. Under a majestic melody, we hear the repeating accompaniment that will undergird the entire composition. Bringing together elements of contemporary — for example, the ostinato would be repeated by some looping technology in many musical acts — and classical (trills, repeating and inverted themes, etc.), Cognetti lets his technically adept fingers tell the rest of this story. For me, this piece brought up imagined pictures of someone running towards the setting sun over windblown hills. The video of this track provides a completely different set of images. The final build-up of the piece ends without a customary musical resolution.
- Da nessuna parte (“Nowhere”) sounds like a prayer to my ears. The beautiful, lilting melody first floats over an ocean of chords. Then, the left hand begins to undulate along with the same melody an octave higher. The next variation returns to the original octave with the simple accompaniment. Again, Cognetti intertwines folk and classical approaches to repetition and variation. This piece is shaped very much like a song. However, the dynamic range is far greater than the typical contemporary song recording. And that is very refreshing.
- The little flurries leading into some of the melodic structures of Viagem (“Journey”) are the strongest indications of popular or new age piano influences in Cognetti’s compositions on this album. At well over eight minutes, this was the only piece that could have been shorter in my opinion. I sometimes had a longing for more melodic features in this piece. (That being said, I’ve brought these same critiques to my own improvisations.)
- If there is one of Cognetti’s pieces on this album that feels like a caress for one’s lover, this is it: Tema (“Theme”). As I listened, all I wanted to do was close my eyes and hear the flow of the piano sounds.
- Intorno (“Around”): A beautiful composition that transmutes through a number of moods. I can hear in this piece why the composer is so capable at soundtracks; this feels like a whole movie.
- Invoking a pensive melancholy, Immobile di fronte all’abisso (“Immobile in front of the abyss”) is track six. The left-hand presses forward even when the melody hangs, waiting for something to propel it in any direction. There are some haunting surprises in the harmonic sequences. I found myself waiting for the next unexpected turn.
- Un altro sguardo (“Another Look”) starts on a major chord, but it is only momentary. The entire piece hovers between major/joy and minor/sadness. The ending chord is suspended (both in musical and emotional terms). This is another recording that has wonderful dynamic range.
- Track eight, “Gaze into thine own heart”, is second only to the final composition in length. In this case, I had no sense of its length until I looked at the information on the screen. Cognetti takes us through a host of musical moods that mostly lean towards melancholy. The lovely dissonances always find resolution until the final chord’s unresolved echoes.
- Piccola danza (“Little Dance”) follows the theme and variations with a bridge form I mentioned previously. In it, the composer carefully rides the edge between structure and simplicity to create three minutes of beauty.
- Cognetti saved one of the most complex and lovely pieces on Rinascita for last: Onde (“Waves”). The harmonic character of this piece is by far the most intriguing and — especially given the nine pieces before it — surprising. In fact, the harmonies are what make Onde a composition like no other on this album. The melodies ooze from the arpeggiated harmonies so that we — the listener — must wait for it to evolve. This tension is something I long for in music, so I found it very effective and enticing.