Gianluigi Trovesi/Gianni Coscia: La misteriosa musica della Regina Loana (ECM 2652)

La misteriosa musica della Regina Loana.jpg

Gianluigi Trovesi
Gianni Coscia
La misteriosa musical della Regina Loana

Gianluigi Trovesi piccolo and alto clarinets
Gianni Coscia accordion
Recorded January 2018, Night And Day Studio, Cascinagrossa
Engineer: Paolo Facco
Mixed and mastered by Guido Gorna and Stefano Amerio
An ECM Production
Release date: June 21, 2019

Umberto Eco (1932-2016) once said of Gianluigi Trovesi and Gianni Coscia, “On a street corner or in a concert hall, they would feel at home just the same.” For their fourth ECM installment, the clarinetist and accordionist prove that statement in a tribute to their departed friend, taking listeners on a sonic journey through Eco’s semi-autobiographical novel La misteriosa fiamma della regina Loana (The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana). Along the way, they riffle through the archives of a bygone era and recreate it with loving attention to detail and personal association. Most of the songs are mentioned in the novel itself, the centerpiece being the five-part “EIAR.” Titled in homage to Italy’s first radio station, the suite drips with nostalgia of the 1930s and 40s.

Despite being of literary genesis, the album carries a tender cinematic charge, evident already in Coscia’s opening solo “Interludio.” More overt connections to the silver screen abound on “As Time Goes By,” from Casablanca, which spreads across the ears like butter over warm bread, and the mysterious yet emotionally transparent “Bel Ami,” from the 1939 German film of the same name. Other perennial favorites, such as “Basin Street Blues” and Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade,” evoke pure delight yet are infused with enough beauty to court the glint of a tear.

Three originals called “Nebjana” take their inspiration from Leoš Janáček’s In the Mists, while “Umberto” and “Eco” are improvised around Trovesi’s gematria of the honored name. Their masterstroke comes in the form of “Gragnola” (Hail of Bullets). Moving from tragedy to triumph, it’s a film in and of itself, casting in its leading role the unabashed love that defines a grander story.

(This article originally appeared, in truncated form, in the December 2019 issue of DownBeat magazine.)

Gianluigi Trovesi: Vaghissimo Ritratto (ECM 1983)

Vaghissimo Ritratto

Gianluigi Trovesi
Vaghissimo Ritratto

Gianluigi Trovesi alto clarinet
Umberto Petrin piano
Fulvio Maras percussion, electronics
Recorded December 2005, Artesuono Recording Studio, Udine
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher

This album’s title, informs Steve Lake in his fascinating liner notes, comes from a madrigal by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, and connotes a beautiful, if hazy, portrait. From that concept, the trio of clarinetist Gianluigi Trovesi, pianist Umberto Petrin, and percussionist Fulvio Maras (who also provides subconscious electronics) unreels a bolt spanning premodern to modern textures, each deconstructed and rewoven along the way to the tune of each musician’s improvisational acumen. Vaghissimo Ritratto is thus a picture gallery that is as much spatial as temporal, painting with good-humored pigments over ECM’s vast canvas.

Trovesi has, of course, already left indelible marks on that same canvas, but perhaps none so distinctive as this. With Maras (heard also on the Trovesi Octet’s Fugace) and Petrin (of Trovesi’s Italian Instabile Orchestra) to assist him, the overall effect is a revelation. A good measure of the album’s “portraits” references Italian cellist and composer Alfredo Piatti. His themes resonate at regular intervals, each a cleansing exhalation before the next intake. In them, not only does Maras hint at a boundless inner world with his light applications, which haunt the edge of perception like dreams jumping off the cliff of waking; he also foils the record’s otherwise acoustic nature. Whether by means of an artful synthesizer or by the touch of hand on drum, he cuts a flash of poetry across every prosodic eye. Through it all, Trovesi stands like a prophet of the here and now. With a lyricism that is an intense as it is entirely his own, Trovesi hones a vibe as only he can elicit from even the simplest melodies.

As a unit, the trio sips from various glasses, moving photographically through stages of development. A taste of cabaret comingles with an operatic piquancy, while nostalgia binds the two in harmony. What might feel like the inside of a café at one moment could very well turn into a death scene the next. Such is the album’s theatrical edge, by which the trio adlibs its way through such tracks as “Serenata” with all the comfort of one reading from a score. And in “Mirage,” notable for the arresting, shawm-like quality that issues from Trovesi’s alto clarinet, we feel cargo moving across the sands while tintinnabulations, soft and hymnal, echo from the piano.

Two twentieth-century singer-songwriters, Luigi Tenco and Jacques Brel, are referenced in “Angela” and “Amsterdam,” respectively. In the hands of Trovesi and company, both of which move through changes with the greatest of ease, and with such grandeur as to make one yearn to have been there when first written. Maras and Petrin each contribute a tune in kind, delving through their rapport into jazzier turns.

If these are the vanity muscles, then the album’s blood supply comes from its host of Renaissance composers, including Claudio Monteverdi, Orlando di Lasso, Luca Marenzio, and Josquin Desprez. In the subsection, for instance, marked “Ricercar vaghezza,” the ritornello from Monteverdi’s opera “L’Orfeo” sounds downright futuristic, so pure is its antiquity, and receives the proper Trovesi treatment in the reedman’s “Grappoli orfici” (Orphic clusters), from which he unravels that Monteverdean thread and with it re-stitches the night sky to a toothsome smile of mountains along the horizon. Further delights await in Desprez’s classic “El grillo,” a song all the closer to my heart not only because it shares my last name, but because the spirited rendering it receives here removes that tongue-in-cheek wrapper and cracks open a little transcendence from within it.

By the time we reach our title destination, a vague and freely improvised foray that sparkles as it slumbers, we splinter along with the trio into a motif from Palestrina. Its message, though whispered, is clear enough: The circle is not a cycle, but the ripple of the first stone.

Gianluigi Trovesi/Gianni Coscia: Round About Weill (ECM 1907)

Round About Weill

Round About Weill

Gianluigi Trovesi piccolo and alto clarinets
Gianni Coscia accordion
Recorded July 2004, Radio Studio DRS, Zurich
Engineer: Markus Heiland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Master clarinetist Gianluigi Trovesi and kindred accordionist Gianni Coscia pick up where they left off on Round about Offenbach, this time giving Kurt Weill (1900-1950) a treatment such as only they can realize. The two friends make Weill their own. Or, more precisely, they make their own Weill, stirring the pot until flavors become one delicious amalgamation. Their doing so is not without precedent. Weill himself found, and forged, art wherever he went, caring not for petty distinctions between the raw and the cooked. From Berlin to Broadway, to borrow from the title of Foster Hirsch’s biography, Weill left a vivid trail of reinvigoration. Yet Trovesi and Coscia do more than pick up the pieces left in his wake, adding as they do a slurry of original counterparts along the way. The latter, in fact, strut with as much panache as the one in whose name they were fashioned.

Turning to the duo’s contributions first, we find the playful romp—replete with harrumphing bellows and Trovesi’s nimble steps—of “Dov’è la città?” setting a tone of variation and complexity. Like so much of what follows, it is a constantly evolving organism, wearing and casting off styles like quick-change artists. Moods range from the profundity of a Górecki string quartet (“Improvvisamente”) and exploratory fugue of “Ein Taifun! … Tifone? No, pioggerella!” to the provocative slants of “Boxen” and the bifurcated title homage. Trovesi manages to navigate every maze-like turn Coscia mortars into being. As with seasoned actors, not a single gesture is out of place in their comportment, as each trades lines with the other in a match of wits so even that it would go on forever without the limits of human attention cutting away the edges.

That said, this is really Coscia’s album through and through. He activates the air as a film projector lights a screen, pulling the dead into life and the living into dreams. Whether riding the effortless wave of “Tango Ballade” (from The Beggar’s Opera) or flipping the coin of excitement and reverie that is “Alabama Song,” his elaborations sing like new. Yet the alpha and omega of the program, and of the duo’s performance thereof, is Weill’s The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. Like the fugitives with which the satirical opera concerns itself, the music herein is resourceful, self-confident, and always heading toward pandemonium. In these scenes, Trovesi and Coscia swap places with telepathic ease, mapping gypsy jazz motifs as comfortably as balladic impulses. Like the album’s penultimate interlude, which bonds “Cumparsita Maggiorata” (by tango pioneer Gerardo Matos Rodríguez) with the traditional “Tristezze di Fra’ Martino,” these instrumental thespians dip into nostalgia only sparingly, so that the dramaturgy at hand can spring forth as if for the first time.

Gianluigi Trovesi All’opera: Profumo di Violetta (ECM 2068)


Gianluigi Trovesi All’opera
Profumo di Violetta

Gianluigi Trovesi piccolo and alto clarinets, alto saxophone
Marco Remondini violoncello, electronics
Stefano Bertoli drums, percussion
Filarmonica Mousiké Orchestra winds and percussion
Savino Acquaviva conductor
Recorded September 2006, Teatro Serassi, Villa d’Almè, Bergamo
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Assistant: Giulio Gallo
Edited and mixed by Gianluigi Trovesi, Manfred Eicher, Savino Acquaviva, Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The mind of multi-reedist Gianluigi Trovesi is a storehouse of refraction, the lens of a human kaleidoscope in whose turning we can see many zeitgeists, each gushing with its own color. For Profumo di Violetta, Trovesi dives headlong into a sea of operatic favorites, treading waters at once romantic and troubled. With sources ranging from Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo to Puccini’s Tosca, his meta-commentary manages to draw fresh catch from an overfished pond. Buoyed by a wind and percussion orchestra in the grand “banda” tradition of his native Italy, Trovesi taps his memories as a boy growing up around these ad hoc configurations and from them coaxes shoots of ingenious contrast.

It’s easy to appreciate the boldness of this project, which spreads the melodramatic jam of tragedy across hunks of improvisatory bread. In the latter vein, Trovesi is very much the Mad Hatter, altering familiar motifs as might a furniture restorer strip a bench to expose long-neglected grain. In the process, however, one comes to realize that his penchant for humor is not without its serious edge. Take, for instance, his rendition of the famous “Largo al factotum,” which turns a tongue-tying chain of Figaros into a field of dots connected by the fuzz of a heavily distorted electric guitar. A far cry from the tuxedo-and-evening-gown aria, it nevertheless boils over with intuition. Such brilliant grandiosity is part and parcel of the album’s sweep.

Bookended by a Prologue and Epilogue, Profumo unfolds across wild stretches of the imagination. The program proper is broken into six sub-suites, of which “Il Mito” (The myth) drops us into the path of Orpheus. Here Trovesi binds a Toccata and Ritornello of Monteverdi with his own compositional veining, so that the sonority of the old touchstones and the whimsy of the new may interlock in flight. In this regard, the butterfly kisses of “Musa” massage away the fatigue of interpretation, allowing Trovesi’s taunting clarinet in “Euridice” to work its way like sugar through the nervous system. His height of range on the instrument is piercing, tickling the clouds until they loose jazzier droplets.

From the underworld to the overdressed, Trovesi and his cohorts escort us to “Il Ballo,” for a dance that is as grand as it is brief. This leads further into “Il Gioco Delle Seduzioni” (The game of seduction), a triptych of early Baroque and contemporary transparencies. From the convivial to the parodic, Trovesi navigates its burrows with eyes closed and whiskers extended, playing with feet aflame while maintaining control of his dance at every bend.

“L’innamoramento” houses the two-part title piece. Trovesi’s homage to Verdi’s doomed La Traviata heroine belies its love through melodic time travel. Here the emotional overload of opera is compressed to diamond clarity. “Il Saltellar Gioioso” features album highlight “Salterellando.” Anchored by snare and cymbal, and threaded by Trovesi’s grungy altoism, it sets off a ripple effect that lingers long into the spiraling “La Gelosia” (Jealousy).

The performance ends with “Così, Tosca,” which for all its eclecticism breathes with consistency. Trovesi’s soulful pitch-bending traces every contour of an underlying drone with care. A subtle harrumph in the brass only serves to brighten the felicitous interweaving of breath and sonority that is his reverie, diving headlong into an incendiary finish that grovels with profound favor. Indeed, the album might just as well be called “Profondità di Violetta,” for all its depth of thought, arrangement, and execution.


(To hear samples of Profumo di Violetta, click here.)

Orchestre National de Jazz: Charmediterranéen (ECM 1828)


Orchestre National de Jazz

Paolo Damiani cello
Anouar Brahem oud
Gianluigi Trovesi piccolo clarinet, alto saxophone
François Jeanneau soprano sax, flute
Thomas de Pourquery soprano, alto and tenor saxophones
Jean-Marc Larché soprano, alto and baritone saxophones
Médéric Collignon pocket trumpet, fluegelhorn, voice
Alain Vankenhove trumpet, fluegelhorn
Gianluca Petrella trombone
Didier Havet sousaphone
Régis Huby violin
Olivier Benoit guitar
Paul Rogers double-bass
Christophe Marguet drums
Recorded October 15 & 16, 2001 live in concerts at Scene Nationale de Montbéliard, Palot/L’Allan
Mixed at Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineer: Gérard de Haro
Assisstant: Gilles Olivesi
Produced by l’Association pour le Jazz en Orchestre National

The seeds for the Orchestre National de Jazz were planted in 1982, when France’s Ministry of Culture set out to promote non-classical forms of music in general, and jazz in particular. The ONJ was at the forefront of this movement and, since its establishment in 1985, has cut across musical divides with utmost professionalism and slick telepathy. In the spirit of developing and exploring fresh repertoire, the ONJ takes on a new director every few years. This album comes from a period under the artistic vision of cellist and double-bassist Paolo Damiani, who spearheaded the ensemble between 2000 and 2002. Although Damiani had previously appeared on ECM as part of the Italian Instabile Orchestra (see Skies Of Europe), his presence here gains frontline recognition. Guesting with him are Tunisian oudist and Anouar Brahem and Italian reed maestro Gianluigi Trovesi.

The album begins with a suite composed around the myth of Orpheus. Told in four chapters, plus a prologue and epilogue, they key to this revisionist narrative lies in its array of psychological insights. The journey into the underworld, for example, feels as if it begins the moment the music exhales with its playful mélange of modern classical touches and eclectic flourishes. Yet rather than a torturous slog through fire and brimstone, we get a swinging gait through the pits of human despair toward the reflected light of Eurydice’s mirror. As much Godard as it is Cocteau, the resolve of this mise-en-scène blisters across a free jazz landscape. Electronic enhancements to the horns render ghostly faces that swirl in and out of focus. Such infusions align this album more closely to Evan Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble than to more conventional outfits. This isn’t your grandmother’s big band.

One suite follows another in the form of “Estramadure.” This three-parter is attuned to overtly compositional impulses, overlaying jagged themes onto smooth backings of winds and brass. Rhythms are tight but spongy, absorbing all that comes their way. Damiani glows in a superb solo turn, making way for a rainy montage cut to ribbons by the sharp relief of Trovesi’s altoism.

Those expecting to hear more of Brahem and Trovesi will either be disappointed or pleasantly surprised. Still, enthusiasts can bask in the warm light of “Montbéliard Trio,” in which the heroes of the hour spend twenty luxurious minutes in various stages of audibility eliciting gorgeous, elliptical themes toward rapture. Brahem also gilds the title track—which translates to “Mediterranean spell”—with appropriately dream-like patterns. Equally deserving of attention are the contributions of violinist Régis Huby, whose restless technical precision recalls that of Mark Feldman. Huby gives especial vibrancy to this 14 and a half-minute epic and elicits a memorable performance in the first of two iterations of “Argentiera.” The fluid stylings of electric guitarist Olivier Benoit also deserve special note.

All told, this is a consistently detailed and sometimes surprising effort that is sure to reward repeated listening.

Gianluigi Trovesi Ottetto: Fugace (ECM 1827)


Gianluigi Trovesi Ottetto

Gianluigi Trovesi alto saxophone, piccolo, alto clarinets
Beppe Caruso trombone
Massimo Greco trumpet, electronics
Marco Remondini cello, electronics
Roberto Bonati double-bass
Marco Micheli double-bass, electric bass
Fulvio Maras percussion, electronics
Vittorio Marinoni drums
Recorded June 2002 at Next Officine Meccaniche Studios, Milan
Recording engineer: Marti Jane Robertson
Assistant engineer: Guido Andreani
Mixed at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Konshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Gianluigi Trovesi is a maverick in ECM’s stable. His ear for melody and, above all, aesthetics makes him a perfect fit for the label and a standout among its crowded roster. The Italian multi-reedist and composer has, it seems, always had his fingers in many pies, yet consistent to his flavor has been the acidity of celluloid. Indeed, Trovei’s penchant for cinematic atmospheres is a running theme throughout his work on all scales, but nowhere more so than on Fugace. The album’s tasteful admixture of noir, new wave, and expressionist “imagery” enables a deep journey to take place for the open-minded listener. Black-and-white figures shake hands with old-time jazzmen and sultry Technicolor beauties alike—all of them bound to a code of traditional and popular European elements. The latter serve to clear all distractions and highlight the diasporic nature of each genre sampled therein. These elements and more come together in what essentially amounts to a fantasy soundtrack, for it needs no film in order to find focus. Rather, moving pictures would be a hindrance to this music, already so robust in its evocativeness that a screen would be just that: something in the way.

The psychedelic electronic refrain of opener “As strange as a ballad” smacks of a dream sequence, Trovesi’s clarinet the psychoanalyst with an ulterior motive hovering at its periphery. Between this and the follow-up, “Sogno d’Orfeo,” there is already much to admire. The latter’s swanky air opens wispily before floating along the avenues of times past in vintage clothing, clutching worn-out hopes all the while. Sampled harpsichord runs add clink and spatter to this astute rollick, as also to the four “Siparietti,” or entr’actes, that pepper the album’s second act. Each turns a similar motif into a corkscrew of Baroque energy just waiting for the right moment to spawn. The title track performs the same trick, replacing one impact with another.

The “African Triptych” is an indisputable highlight of the program, moving across swaths of landscape in smooth and easygoing melodies. The musicianship is at once careful and carefree, the composing likewise. The second section, “Scarlet Dunes,” unveils a refreshing turn from alto, plying that middle range with all the depth of a sailor dropping anchor. Trovesi manages to scrape the horizon with his fingernails and reveal the gessoed backing. His screeching works wonders here and hereafter, and enhances the band’s subconscious qualities.

Of said band, one can hardly say enough. With Trovesi in the lead, it includes two bassists, two percussionists, a cellist, trombonist, and trumpeter. Its recipes expand upon the minimal ingredients of Trovesi’s chamber projects, and the decade of experience that comes to the table here is detectable in every course. The incorporation of electronics is an ingenious touch, resulting in a hybrid that is as much nu jazz (cf. the dancing breakbeats of “Clumsy dancing of the fat bird”) as Vivaldi; at times haunting (“Canto di lavoro”) and at others parodic. “Blues and West” fits squarely in the vein of parody. Fronting gritty electric guitar work over a smooth bass line and hip blowing from the horns, it gives off whimsical pheromones to be sure. Trovesi’s nod to W. C. Handy, “Ramble,” is another fascinating mélange of eras and styles, shifting John Zorn-like from Dixieland to free jazz in the blink of an eye. The rhythms are totally on point and keep us locked into every chameleonic change. Further along, the whitewash of “Il Domatore” dovetails the beauteous desolation of a William Basinski loop with the hard post-bop of a Dave Holland joint. Its arc goes into hiding until it touches ground in “Totò nei Caraibi,” which pulls the mournful final credits like a curtain in reverse.

Of all possible genres to have been referenced here, neo-realism remains unacknowledged, perhaps in fear of its own reflection. That its hard-won lessons might jump out and startle us at any time is part of the appeal of Fugace, which quells those urges with tightly wound lyricism and colorful appeal. Another masterstroke from Trovesi and his circle.

Gianluigi Trovesi/Gianni Coscia: In cerca di cibo (ECM 1703)

In cerca di cibo

In cerca di cibo

Gianluigi Trovesi clarinets
Gianni Coscia accordion
Recorded February 1999 in Zürich
Engineer: Markus Heiland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The virtuosic duo of multi-reedist Gianluigi Trovesi (performing here on clarinets) and accordionist Gianni Coscia makes its first ECM appearance with In cerca di cibo. Over the course of an affectionate hour, these two points of light join to create a binary star that shines in full spectrum. The album’s title means “In search of food,” thus indicating seeds sown and re-sown until they bear new fruit to nourish the ears. It also points to the music’s folk origins, glazed and fired to perfection.

The title piece in duplicate bookends the 15-track program with selections from Fiorenzo Carpi’ score to the 1971 TV mini-series Le avventure di Pinocchio. With the artistry of a wind-blowing cloud on an old map, it christens this sonic vessel and guides its sails as true as Trovesi’s psychoanalytic leaps. “Gepetto” is perhaps the most insightful in this regard. A far cry from Disney’s bumbling songster, it takes us instead into the soul of a man tortured by the fact that his only hope for a child’s love is to carve that love from the forest’s very flesh and bone. These sentiments are echoed in the heartrending “Fata Turchina” (Fairy) and “Lucignolo” (Candlewick). The duo further references the 1994 film Il Postino in its title theme by Luis Bacalov, here but a heart murmur, a flash of romance crocheted into warmth.

Even without a track list in hand, the cinematic contours of nearly every piece are apparent. Whether navigating Trovesi’s descriptive “Villanella” or the nimble fingerwork of “Minor Dance,” to say nothing of his wailing inscriptions in Coscia’s “Le giostra di Piazza Savona,” there is plenty of storyboarding at play. The co-composition “Celebre Mazurka alterata” further epitomizes the duo’s wide range of moods, abilities, and technical flourishes—a masterpiece that lends Ángel Villoldo’s classic tango “El Choclo” all the verve it needs to leave its meteoric trail across the sky. Also noteworthy is “Django (Donadona)” by pianist-composer John Lewis: not only for its superb music, but also for the narrative arc it takes on in the present rendition. From mourning to frivolity, Trovesi and Coscia are omniscient purveyors of their domain, such that when they close the album’s bright, tempestuous circle with the very shadows from which it was born, we know that the melodies will continue to dance into the distances of their hearts.

What we’re left with is a scene cinched by the drawstring of politics, war, and indecision, shaken free of its inhibitions and re-clothed in passion. It takes us as we are, provided we leave our preconceptions at the door. As Umberto Eco says in his liner notes, “there’s no need to wonder about in which temple we should place the music of Coscia and Trovesi. On a street corner, or in a concert hall, they would feel at home just the same.” It may just be that they feel best at home with you.

Gianluigi Trovesi and Gianni Coscia: Frère Jacques – Round about Offenbach (ECM 2217)

Frère Jacques – Round about Offenbach

Gianluigi Trovesi piccolo and alto clarinets
Gianni Coscia accordion
Recorded January 21-23 and March 2-4, 2009, Centro Civico Musicale Sant’Anna, Perugia
Engineer: Francesco Ciarfuglia
Produced by Manfred Eicher

In search of Brother Jacques, Mr. Offenbach, the great iconoclast, composer of operettas and wound-bringer to discerning classical minds. Our guides, multi-reedist Gianluigi Trovesi and accordionist Gianni Coscia. The itinerary destroys borders, forges new ones in their wake, and takes every path with more than a grain of salt. The melodies take on an ember glow, gesticulating in the manner of an oil painter’s brush and leaving behind a portrait that is offering and caricature in one. We stumble and marvel at what impedes our feet, knowing that we can only sit this one out and accept the frivolity of its passage. It is the pageant, and we the hapless spectators, ears sharpened to the whim of interpretation.

Scholar Heather Hadlock writes of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a “death-utterance,” so concerned is his only (and unfinished) opera with death and its many reflections, to say nothing of its emergence from the pen of a dying man himself. In the course of the work, Offenbach “reviews his own compositional past, drawing its various elements into a musico-dramatic kaleidoscope.” And so, Hadlock concludes, we might better see it as “undead,” for the narrator lives and speaks on even after his symbolic passing. Doubtless, the listener will find in Trovesi and Coscia’s striking reinventions a death-defying vivaciousness on par with their sources. Breath and bellows jump from their digital oven like myriad gingerbread men, running nakedly and wittily through Hoffmann with all the requisite stagecraft such activity would require to convince us of its aliveness. Fitting, too, is the “Epilogue” drawn from the same, which ends the album on a funereal pitch.

Most of what precedes it, however, seats us at a banquet table of delights. The four opéras bouffes—operettas rich in parody and farce named for the Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens at which Offenbach premiered them, if not the other way around—sampled here come out of a particularly fruitful tenure, during which time the composer produced some of his most popular work. Of La belle Hélène (1864), La vie parisienne (1866), La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein (1867), La Périchole (1868), he quipped most characteristically, “I am certainly the Father, but together they are the Son and the Wholly Spirited.” Trovesi and Coscia are more than happy to toss these ingredients almost cartoonishly in their kitchen. With herbs and stalks a-flying, they include whatever comes to mind in the largest pot they can find, only to ladle the resulting concoction with butler-like care into our bowls. It’s all we can do as their guests to not dip our spoons in unison, and join in the after-dinner dancing into which the sheer joy of these flavors bids us welcome.

To be sure, these provide a rich and complementary tasting experience. The truffle of Trovesi’s alto clarinet blends into Coscia’s creamy leeks, each enhancing the other to infinite effect. La vie parisienne provides some of the album’s maddest brilliance, ambulating like feet on a mission to stir up gossip in the village square. From Mozartian prances to fervent declarations, the remainder flies. Yet it is in the improvisatory hands of our fantastic duo where lie the deepest treasures. Among them are the vivid gems of “Tangoffenbach” and “Dedicated to Hélène and her little birds,” each an aperitif of smoothest finish. These are monologues that sing and move, bringing shadow to can-can, and lipstick to statues.

This is a diarist’s playbook, a sincere exploration of passion and obsession that not only pays tribute to but also transcends its namesake, all the while caging the spark of creativity in action. What’s left is an affirmation…and a smile.

Italian Instabile Orchestra: Skies Of Europe (ECM 1543)

Italian Instabile Orchestra
Skies Of Europe

Pino Minafra trumpet, megaphone
Alberto Mandarini trumpet
Guido Mazzon trumpet
Giancarlo Schiaffini trombone, tuba
Lauro Rossi trombone
Sebi Tramontana trombone
Martin Mayes French horn, mellophone
Mario Schiano alto and soprano saxophones
Gianluigi Trovesi alto saxophone, clarinet, alto and bass clarinets
Carlo Actis Dato baritone and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet
Daniele Cavallanti tenor and baritone saxophones
Eugenio Colombo alto and soprano saxophones, flute
Renato Geremia violin
Paolo Damiani cello
Giorgio Gaslini piano, anvil
Bruno Tommaso double-bass
Tiziano Tononi drums, percussion
Vincenzo Mazzone tympani, percussion, drums
Recorded May 1994 with the White Mobile, Auditorium F.L.O.G., Florence
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Steve Lake

Reductively speaking, Skies Of Europe is significant for welcoming reedist Gianluigi Trovesi into the ECM fold. More broadly, we find in this second record from the 18-piece Italian Instabile Orchestra a potpourri of stimuli that only hints at the significance of this democratic collective in its formative live settings, which helped spark a renaissance in Italian jazz. The group, founded in 1990, sports a lush yet angular sound that is exciting down to the marrow. True to form, it offers up two longish suites as showcases of hidden shadows and the talents that cast them.

Bassist Bruno Tommaso paints half of this diptych with his Il Maestro Muratore (The Master Mason). The open, golden sound rings of epic fantasy, spilling glitter and feathers like birds diving into waterfalls as drums light the way for deeper abstractions. Sections range from declamatory (“Squilli Di Morte”) and insistent (“Corbù”) in mood to the gentler persuasions of “Merù Lo Snob.” The latter’s formative vibes from piano and reeds kiss the air with promise, veiling sensual developments in the politics of breath. With vivacious resolve the music spreads in these directions and more, leaving but a silhouette and a clue.

The title suite, composed by pianist Giorgio Gaslini, sets its phasers to meditative in the opening section, “Du Du Duchamp.” This ponderous tenure at the casino swaps the former’s chips for ornately patterned pips, the violin’s Ace of Spades the most florid of them all. So begins a roving gallery of allusions, gambling higher stakes in “Quand Duchamp Joue Du Marteau” to translucent effect, letting out a Pifarély-like cry in “Il Suono Giallo,” and traipsing through the forested “Marlene E Gli Ospiti Misteriosi” on the heels of a stunning baritone, which stumbles like Little Red Riding Hood into the wolf’s open jaws. “Satie Satin” is a delightful palate cleanser with shrill arco touches, while “Masse D’urto (A Michelangelo Antonioni)” is as emotionally turgid as the cinema of its dedicatee. A manipulated trumpet spools the anthemic “Fellini Song” in an old dusty theater, petering into fadeout.

The IIO is an attentive and responsive unit—so much so that by the end of this performance the names of individual players (as brilliant as they are) cease to matter. In the midst of this acticity we are but bystanders at the roulette table, watching as that little white ball bounces from red to black until it settles on…

<< Keith Jarrett Trio: Standards In Norway (ECM 1542)
>> Tomasz Stanko Quartet: Matka Joanna (ECM 1544)