: a reappearance in a painting of an original drawn or painted element which was eventually painted over by the artist
: Italian, literally, repentance, correction, from pentire to repent, from Latin paenitēre
In a traumatic time…
It goes without saying that, at the time of this writing, the country into which I was born is suffering. Like a set of stacking dolls, our current trauma houses other trauma, which houses yet more trauma, and on and on. It is not merely “2020” that is our national tragedy. Thankfully, more and more people who are not among the most disenfranchised are waking up to this. If you are reading this, you know what I mean, and it is not I who ought to have the first or last word on any of it. All I can speak to is my own personal trauma, and that is what I aim to do with these words, and with this recording.
In the spring of 2018, I suffered a mental collapse largely of my own making. After a decade of struggling with substance abuse and mental illness, I was finally receiving recognition for my art and did not know how to process it. The death of Cecil Taylor impacted me in ways I had not anticipated. I was proud of the work I was releasing, but could not reconcile that pride with the guilt I felt knowing that Cecil had opened the door for me in so many ways.
How can I accept any recognition right out of the box when this man paved the way? What have I stolen from him? Am I a fraud? Can I see artistry as a long game, the way he did? How could I reconcile, as a queer white man in the 21st Century, what had so long been denied my hero of heroes?
I could not stop thinking about it.
It was not the anxiety of influence that was affecting me most. Abrupt cessation of all mind-altering substances, including psychiatric medication, led me to experience nearly two years of self-doubt, paranoia, anxiety, depression, and numbness to pleasure. This inability to experience pleasure was most evident in my capacity to listen to music, let alone play it. I was not myself, I was not playing like myself, and I had brought this anhedonia upon myself through sheer neglect of my spiritual condition and my health. I was proud enough of the material I had released that I found myself thinking, “Well, if I never play again, at least I did this.” Yet my creative paralysis made me fearful that this sentiment might be true. I was frightened that I had lost my creative spark, and that it would never return. I had forgotten to live by Cecil’s own words: “You own nothing. It isn’t about possession; it’s about giving.” I needed to learn how to give again.
…given a set of circumstances…
Cut to 2020. I was beginning to be able to play again, beginning to find joy in the making of music. Just as I was ready to return to the stage, abruptly there were no stages available to me. Fine. There was still much work to be done. I took this as an opportunity to get to work, in private, and get back in touch with my creativity. In that hermetic environment, it worked. I had awakened from dormancy with such gratitude that I could play music again in any capacity, grateful that music is an essential part of who I am, and fortunate that I play an instrument that one can explore at great length, alone.
After two years, I was ready to speak once again through my music. But how? Without being able to record new music with others safely, and feeling no need to make just another solo piano record, what was I to do? I decided that I would go against my own instincts to make something new. I wondered what might be possible if I went into the studio alone and overdubbed some improvised vignettes. I settled on three layers of multitrack solo piano, just as Bill Evans had done on Conversations with Myself. I wrote down a few concepts I wanted to explore. Just words on a page, a prompt for myself. I was concerned with texture and simplicity, and how these prompts (like “open fifths”; “inside the piano”; “within one octave” etc.) might be a vehicle for instant composition through a gradual process. In the interest of spontaneity, I wanted to record each subsequent overdub without listening back, relying on my own memory and the element of surprise to produce a finished product. I stuck to this process for the recording session, which yielded 20 pieces, 15 of which this record is composed.
…finds that the process is the product.
When I conceived of this record, the word “pentimento” came to me first as an art history term with which I was vaguely familiar. It seemed an appropriate analogue for what I aimed to do in the studio. A pentimento, in painting, is "the presence or emergence of earlier images, forms, or strokes that have been changed and painted over." This seemed appropriate enough for what I was trying to create: a series of multi tracked improvisations made in sequence so that their layers would create a sound world that would not, and could not be created on one piano in real time by one pianist. That was enough for me, having a fitting title. However, it was not until I investigated the etymology of the word “pentimento” itself that it became clear to me what I was doing with this project. “Pentimento” in Italian means “repentance.”
Now, I am admittedly drawn to double-meanings, whether they be lewd for the sake of humor, poetically useful, or conveniently revelatory. In this case, it was the latter, and the concept of repentance colored my approach to the personal content. To get out of this rut, and get past it, I needed to repent for the sins I had committed against myself in the past, and I needed to do so by documenting my present feelings in an honest, discrete way. The process of recording this music was as important as the final product. In fact, in the case of this record, the process is the product. Following through on this creative act allowed me to extend myself some mercy, in the hope that I can get better, but also be better: be a better artist, a better person, a better citizen…
I hope we are all better soon.
released January 15, 2021
Matt Piet - Piano
(improvised sequentially in three subsequent layers)
Recorded June 27, 2020 at belAir Sound Studio by Todd Carter.
Mastered by Bill Harris