The Roberto Pianca-led ensemble Sub Rosa's second release is a concentrated exercise in inter-communicative restraint, subtlety and woven odd meters that provokes the mind while consoling the soul. It's a cool affair that profits from the individual talents' accurate performances and inquisitive spirits as much as the leader's proficiently crafted compositions. Where the predecessor, self-titled Sub Rosa (Wide Ear Records, 2013) was a rather rigorously tempered and vigorously executed display of broad technical virtuosity, Mono No Aware scales things back a bit and reveals patient development in a conceptually-toned setting instead.
Pianca isn't the boasting kind of guitarist. His language has a unique twist to it that imposes itself upon the listener with each melodic turn and unexpected harmonic twist, but his own playing remains sparse and minimal throughout, as does that of all musicians involved in this recording, though a lack of talent surely isn't the reason why.
New York-based pianist Glenn Zaleski belongs to the foundation of the harmonic happenings within the group but is as much an atmosphere- designer here has the leader himself, who switches between dry semi-acoustic guitar tones and reverb-drenched cloudscapes in one moment and to attack-less walls of chords in the next (see "Mimetolith" vs. "Ectoplasm"). Saxophonist Rafael Schilt owes his gently swaying tone to the Joe Lovano school of tenors while taking on a more ornamental role on many tunes throughout the set. His nimble swirls and twirls over one of the rare, hurried exhibitions in "Modern Forms" give a glimpse at the saxophonist's capabilities in a racier environment but don't overshadow the virtues of subtler drawn lines, like the ones elegantly pervading "Pareidolia"'s folky Largo six-time groove.
Texture and dynamic nuance are given as much space as melodic and harmonic information, forming an overall meditative session that sonically ranges from jazz through rock to more abstract forms of contemporary composition and improvisation. "Kintsugi"'s head sees Pianco channeling his inner John Coltrane, borrowing its theme from the first four notes of the "Giant Steps"-defining motif. The nod to one of the most influential jazz composers of the 20th century turns into a driven mid-tempo jam that provokes Pianca the opportunity to show off some of his more extravagant guitar playing, diagonally running through scales with the relaxed poise and signature tone of guitar icon Kurt Rosenwinkel. Zaleski follows the leader's uncompromising stride and skillfully navigates through the turbulent changes with a keen sense for melodic development.
Bassist Stefano Senni and drummer Paul Amereller's efforts to tighten up the rhythmic groundwork find reciprocity in the carefully conceived arrangements of guitar-piano-saxophone trinity, as exemplified in the beginning sequences of "Hexagon," "Mimetolit," or at different moments throughout "Double Aessthetics," another mid-tempo score that tickles the light-footedness out of an otherwise pensive program.
As the philosophical, scientific and even paranormal nature of the songs' titles might suggest, Mono No Aware is not an album for those in search for easy listening or old-school be-bop pleasures. Instead Pianca offers us a quietly brooding collection of introspective elaborations that have a calculated, almost mathematical quality in common, which progressively transcends the intellectual barriers with each re-visitation, resulting in a grand musical experience.
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