“The main thing about Leo is his spirit,” says Gullotti. “Every time he plays, he’s always positive.” He adds, “Only two pianists have played with the Fringe — Tim Ray and Leo.” Hal Crook: “There is no ‘fat’ in Leo’s music; it’s just healthy, lean, mean, organic jazz.”
Genovese comes from Venado Tuerto, a town about 300 miles west of Buenos Aires. He was drawn to the piano by hearing his older brother’s lessons. As a teenager he played rock and funk, and at college in Rosario he studied classical — the only music in the curriculum besides Argentine popular music. At college he heard more and more jazz through friends. One friend gave him a cassette of the Miles Davis Quintet’s Nefertiti. “I remember the feeling of putting that on and not understanding anything at all but digging it 200 percent,” Genovese tells me over tea at the 1369 Coffeehouse in Inman Square. A Berklee recruitment audition in Buenos Aires led to a scholarship.
When Genovese names the bands who have influenced him — that Nefertiti Davis Quintet with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, Weather Report, the Keith Jarrett Quartet with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian, and Wayne Shorter’s current quartet with Danilo Pérez — he says the thing they all have in common is “looseness.” He adds, “When I hear those bands, there are many things I don’t understand, and I don’t want to understand, and I don’t need to understand, and I love them.”
For talented young players, the pull of New York is always strong, but for now Genovese is happy being in Boston. Thus far he has one homonymous Planet Safety CD on Soul Note, released last year, and a FreshSound/New Talent CD under his own name from 2004. He’s finished recording Spalding’s debut Heads Up CD and has recorded another trio of his own with bassist Justin Purtill and drummer Joe Hunt. “I really don’t know where the thing is taking me or taking us. I don’t know and I don’t want to know. I’m enjoying the fact that I don’t know. It’s the best place to be.”
If Genovese sticks to his guns, maybe he can achieve something of the focused serenity of guitarist David Torn. Now 54, Torn has survived a life-threatening brain tumor and the travails of the music business, those mitigated by film-score work (most recently, No Country for Old Men) and recording or producing albums with the likes of David Bowie and Jeff Beck. At the same time, he has serious avant-garde bona fides. A week ago Thursday, he brought his Prezens band into the Regattabar — in essence the Tim Berne Hard Cell trio, with keyboardist Craig Taborn and drummer Tom Rainey.