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July/August 2007

Gianluigi Trovesi/Umberto Petrin/Fulvio Maras
Vaghissimo Ritratto
ECM Records

If ever there was a stereotypical ECM album, this is it. Don’t even think of trying to listen to it in your pickup truck; it doesn’t work. You’ll need a good home-audio system and ambient quiet to hear and appreciate the lonely-room, echoey quality of the recording, even though the studio here was not in a fjord, but in Italy. The music, described as a “chamber improvisation project,” exudes sensitivity, taste and, to paraphrase Stephen Colbert, classiness. But is it jazz? Or, to reprise an old ECM put-down, Effete Caucasian Music?

Actually, neither. At its best, this album presents finely honed duets by Trovesi’s alto clarinet and Petrin’s piano, and trios incorporating the percussion (drum kit with brushes, or Handsonic percussion pad) and sampler/computer of Maras. At its worst, those trios are as pretentious as a soundtrack to an artsy horror movie, in those foreboding moments of quietus. Most of the album consists of ritrattos, or impressions, of themes from art music and/or contemporary cabaret/pop (Jacques Brel, Italian pop star Luigi Tenco), with emphasis on Alfredo Piatti, the Bergamo cellist-composer whose death centennial in 2001 marked the first collaboration of Trovesi and Petrin. Trovesi does virtuosic things with the alto clarinet, and there’s some amazing interplay here, but the music is more commedia dell’arte in spirit than the jazz these musicians are capable of playing.

Originally published in July/August 2007
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