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04/19/12

Gianluigi Trovesi/Gianni Coscia
Frère Jacques—Round About Offenbach
ECM Records

If you can’t quite figure out whether clarinetist Gianluigi Trovesi and accordionist Gianni Coscia’s latest is a jazz or classical release, the subtitle offers a genre-hopping clue: It’s both. Though ostensibly dedicated to 19th-century French composer Jacques Offenbach, Frère Jacques—Round About Offenbach is, as the reference to the Monk standard suggests, less a straight rendering of Offenbach’s music than a jazz-tinged approximation. Even those new to the man Rossini allegedly dubbed “the Mozart of the Champs-Élysées” are likely to recognize a melody or two.

Offenbach is perhaps best known for Les contes d’Hoffmann, a dialogue-free opera that features the can-can episode “the galop infernal.” As novelist Umberto Eco points out in his liner notes, Trovesi and Coscia give the famous dance tune an original twist, at one point slowing the melody to an elegiac drone (“Galop … troterellando”). This is the dominant mode of Frère Jacques.

Granted, the album is not a meditative monolith. On track two, “Ah! que les homes sont bêtes/Mon Dieu, mon Dieu,” for example, you get a strong sense of the upbeat decadence that defines Offenbach’s music. But the majority of the session is defined by sparse settings and languid tempos—cool jazz choices that bathe the music in a sunset glow. When the duo slows Offenbach’s jaunt to a leisurely stroll, as they do on the original “Parton le barcarole,” they evoke both the Champs-Élysées and 52nd street. It’s a lovely place to wind up.

Originally published in April 2012
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