Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Vaghissimo Ritratto

Vaghissimo Ritratto
Gianluigi Trovesi with Umberto Petrin and Fulvio Maras
ECM 1983

The notion of canonization is a controversial one in jazz. For his latest ECM project, Gianluigi Trovesi addresses the historical canon of European music, engaging composers like Luca Marenzio and Claudio Monteverdi of the late Renaissance, as well as masters of popular song like Luigi Tenco. Not surprisingly, Italy is well represented by the likes of Alfredo Piatti, with the balance coming from figures from Flanders and the Low Countries, like Jacques Brel and Josquin Desprez. While Vaghissimo Ritratto has an intimate sound, its scope covers hundreds of years of European musical history integrated into the trio’s original conceptions.

Ritratto begins with a group original, “Primo apparir,” which sets the atmosphere of austere elegance for the session. On alto clarinet throughout the session, Trovesi plays the beautiful melody over Petrin’s sparkling piano accompaniment and the unobtrusive electronic effects of Maras. Inspired the composer and cellist Alfredo Piatti, it is one of several selections identified as “Ritratto [portrait] di A.P.”

Throughout the session Trovesi and company effectively mix past and present. Monteverdi’s “L’Orfeo” serves as prelude to Trovesi’s “Grappoli orfici,” a contemplative piece that echoes its classical prologue. In the case of “Serenata/Matona mia cara” the musicians start with a sprightly original inspired by di Lasso which eventually resolves into its source composition. Clocking in less than three minutes, it is a perfect miniature, in which the three musicians intertwine beautifully, until Maras’ percussion turns back the clock to Renaissance.

With the more contemporary popular songs, Trovesi’s alto clarinet draws out all the melancholy of Brel’s “Amsterdam” and Tenco’s “Angela.” The simplicity of the instrumentation particularly suits the vibe of Brel’s Parisian cabaret material.

There is a strong chamber jazz sensibility to Ritratto, but it is not uniformly moody. Their rendition of Desprez’s “El Grillo” has a tongue-in-cheek quality, and the following “Particolare di J. Donne” has a strong, if idiosyncratic rhythmic drive. Inspired by the work of Flemish composer Tielman Susato later used to accompany the poetry of John Donne, it illustrates the literary and historical grounding of Ritratto.

Ritratto is a collage of beautiful melodies and improvisations, presented with deceptive simplicity. Blending jazz with classical, but not at the expense of the musicians’ voices, it is a truly graceful recording.