Francesco Tristano: Not For Piano

In jazz of the new millennium, demarcations between genres are being breached as never before. To cite just one instrumental category, think of all those gifted European pianists who spent their youths in classical conservatories before they embraced jazz: Stefano Bollani, Amina Figarova, Stefano Battaglia, Joachim Kühn. Their emergence has newly reinvigorated that discredited concept of the ’60s, the “third stream.” On paper, Francesco Tristano looks like he might be added to the list. He is 26, born in Luxembourg, a resident of Barcelona, educated at Juilliard, conversant in Bach and Vivaldi and Scarlatti, and interested in jazz improvisation and electronica.

Alas, Tristano’s American debut release is a spectacularly unattractive recording. It alternates between lease-breaking banging (“Hello”) and the vacuous musical catatonia of quiet little obsessive/compulsive repetitions (“Andover”). Sometimes these polar-opposite annoyances occur in the same piece (“Strings of Life”). Perhaps it was electronica that gave Tristano the disastrous notion that too much repetition in music is just enough. A case might be made that only a pianist with skill could make a record this proactively insufferable. Tristano has facility. But he currently lacks the good sense that Ernest Hemingway called a “built-in [junk] detector.”