Italian composer and performer Marcello Liverani says his new EP has a second inspiration, besides the Zen philosophy that so often informs his gently beautiful work. It is the photography of the great Fan Ho, whose mostly candid documentation of Hong Kong in the 1950s and 1960s earned him international acclaim. Ho passed in 2016 at 84.
Specifically, Liverani references Ho’s use of light. From the release’s notes: “light as a revealer of forms (hence the title of the EP), together with a certain photographic texture revived in music.” All photography is about light, fundamentally, but Ho’s work showcases a deep understanding of its expressiveness.
This is what Liverani is seeking to give us with this first of two five-track releases. Shapes Vol. 1 opens with the understated “Tangles (lo-fi piano tapes).” It is one of those spacious, quietly performed piano solos that is open to interpretation. Some will hear sadness, others contentment.
“Stream and Clouds” follows, with a first taste of electronics and vocals. It is a rather sharp turn from the EP’s opener, but a tasteful one. Like many of today’s most interesting contemporary music producers, Liverani combines new classical and ambient electronic inspirations to great effect.
“Shimmering Ice” is more expressive still. Had Ho focused solely on moving pictures (he was also a successful film director and actor), this would be a suitable addition to any soundtrack. You can almost feel the light’s warmth as the track progresses.
Next comes “Fabric,” another piano solo, more rousing than the EP’s opener but still richly introspective. Then, “Prime Numbers,” arguably the high point of Shapes Vol. 1. It is an inspired take on the emotional content of Ho’s work.
I’m not a big fan of beats in new classical works. To my ear, the combination sounds too much like the bad old days of Windham Hill-era new age. That said, Liverani’s introduction of percussion two minutes into this gorgeous three-minute piece serves as a kind of crescendo. The EP closes with a genuinely emotional high, and the promise of more to come with a second volume.