SJS’ review of an superb new album from Switzerland: Roberto Pianca’s Sub Rosa – Mono No Aware. As Brexit effects bite, it feels more important than ever to maintain links with our musical colleagues overseas.

Roberto Pianca Sub Rosa  –  Mono No Aware

Honolulu Records, released 5 February 2021 (CD and Digital)

In the present pandemic times when it is reasonable to be more aware of life’s transience, this writer has been reading about the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi. There is thus a certain synchronicity in discovering this new album of contemporary jazz from Swiss-Italian guitarist Roberto Pianca and his quintet, Sub Rosa (meaning ‘under the rose’ or in secret). A self-titled debut album was released in 2017.

The Japanese album title Mono No Aware , means a melancholy feeling related to the impermanence of things, or an aesthetic sensitivity. It turns out this could not be a more apt title.

Pianca has collaborated over the years with many names such as US drummer Joey Baron, US pianist Russ Lossing, Italian saxophonist Pietro Tonolo, Greek vocalist Savina Yannatou and US saxophonist John O’Gallagher. A penchant for the left-field manifests also in the group Pianca is probably best known for, the avant-garde trio Third Reel. With the band Sub Rosa it feels as if he has dug deeper yet.

Joining Pianca in Sub Rosa, are Swiss tenor saxophonist Rafael Schilt, US pianist Glenn Zaleski, Italian double bassist Stefano Senni and Swiss drummer Paul Amereller. All have played together in various combinations before.

The seven pieces in Mono No Aware are all composed by Pianca, and while growing ever more meditational as the album unfolds, a graceful balance between restraint and improvisation is evident throughout. The Japanese theme continues in the especially gentle piece Kintsugi, meaning the art of repairing broken pottery with precious metal. This piece features some especially attractive drumming from Amereller.

All the tunes are unhurried and calm, none more so than opener Double Aesthetics in which Schilt’s sax sounds like it’s breathing and which just so very slowly, drifts to a stop. Similarly, Hexagon positively melts at times, while Paredolia (look it up!) seems to gesture faintly towards Cinematic Orchestra and Radiohead.

Modern Forms varies the pace slightly with some opening rapid double bass forms from Senni, and combines some pianistic frills from Zaleski with a mildly uncanny feel, before penultimate tune Mimetolith (again, look it up!) shimmers its way to the final spacey and seemingly dissolving Ectoplasm.

This is an album that will surely be well-received, such is its delicacy, subtlety and musical intelligence, where egos are not on display. It is spacious yet precise music, evolved and exquisite and bears repeated close listening. A perfect musical accompaniment to that mono no aware feeling.

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