(Persona; 2007)

By Mark Abraham | 10 August 2007

So, from what I can gather, Marco Tonni wants Figura to act as anima; it chronicles a fictional day in the life of a fictional woman who will provide all of us with an emotional mirror to reflect on…well, something I’m sure, but fictional girls created by men who are supposed to save our souls (…especially when burdened with autoerotic fantasy) bore me, and I’d much rather dwell on how good this music is than how lame I think the concept is.

More important, I think, is Tonni’s wonderful approach to directing jazz composition into electronic music. Rather than trying to make house or techno sound like jazz (this isn’t St. Germaine, or even something good like Music is Rotted One Note [1998]), Tonni’s game is to employ more complex jazz modes to write melody. Now, ultimately this music doesn’t sound more complex than any other contemporary dance floor music (although there are parts where Tonni uses jazz samples); rather, Tonni keeps things changing, eschewing the prevalent goal of many artists to effect subtle change. This results in a curious album that is as listenable as some of its tracks are funky, playing as it does through a conceptual narrative arc that gives the motion of the album direction.

“Frühstück” is the most immediate track on the album, a mesh of portamento bass synth lines and ringing descending electric piano tones. The arp that chugs along in the background gives the track livid momentum before the drums really take hold, and the shimmering synth lines in the background (accented awesomely with a down pitch stutter at the end of each line) give the track a lovely brightness. The drums themselves are basic; like Pantha Du Prince, Tonni’s emphasis is on melody before beat, but those melodies are so engaging it’s hard to complain. Midway through the track Tonni employs a break of synths that sound like reversed guitars (they possibly are, although the body sounds too full) before the track realigns itself. The title translates to “breakfast,” and this track sounds perfectly hazy, enjoying the sun dappling through the window on the table.

“She Let Some Light In” employs more interesting glitchy percussion (tonally, anyway; the beat is pretty steady) before a funk guitar whirls its way into the mix. “Pioggia” is a dark track that employs brief horn and piano samples to give color to a shuffling drum array and a droning product of pitch bending that could be a synth or an actual sample. “Autoerotica” again employs arps for momentum; meanwhile, the deep track has its corners choked by a multitude of spiraling noises. The jazz of this one comes from a grainy organ riff that pans between channels. “Di Sotto” joins acoustic guitar, marimbas, and clavinet with Tonni’s throaty vocals. He’s a good singer, but he’s also smart enough to realize that his close-mic’d intimacy only works sparsely. The “Take Off” trilogy works incredibly well. “Dive,” the track proper, features Tonni’s best drum work on the album as well as his most complex melodies and chord progressions. I’m not sure if there’s quite enough “oomph” for the dancefloor (the Malto EP Tonni released soon after this album serves that purpose), but it’s an incredibly interesting track all the same.

The album closes with the title track, another vocal piece, and “Promenade,” which puts the narrative to bed with the same happy reflection that opened the album. The track features a great walking bass line surrounded by bubbling synths and a continuous chime that serves the same purpose as his arps in other tracks. And, nicely, as the track spins out into silence, an acoustic guitar rises from the void to spin out the album. And that’s why Figura is so impressive: all the little accents that give the narrative weight and rearticulate ideas are already present. See Touane’s singles if you’re looking to play his stuff on the dance floor, but see Figura if you want some incredibly pretty funk.