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

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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/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.