Founded a decade ago, the Gianluigi Trovesi Ottetto has become one of the most persuasive vehicles for its leaders compositional and arranging skills and instrumental brilliance, alongside the Italian reedman’s acclaimed duo with Gianni Coscia, whose “In cerca di cibo” was one of the left-field successes of ECM’s 1999/2000 season. The octet, making its ECM debut with “Fugace”, shares the duo’s wit and keen sense of parody, but offers a broader scope of feeling. The Ottetto’s line-up is atypical: it’s a double quartet, closer to the group that Ornette Coleman put together for “Free Jazz” than to a miniature Big Band. Yet its sound is reminiscent, rather, of certain Mingus groups or of the Ellington experiments with two basses, all filtered through a typical Italian sensitivity, based on the instrumental schools of Gabrieli and Vivaldi – Bergamo is an area of Venetian influence.
In the “front-line” four solo voices only rarely alternate in “sections” in big band style, used instead to perform complex arrangements with often intricate polyphonies, an effect emphasized by the combination of bowed bass and cello. The four instruments of the “rhythm section” meanwhile have a wide range of option: percussion and drums, electric bass or bass guitar versus double bass, bowed bass versus pizzicato bass, they give Trovesi multiple possibilities of variation in the rhythmic fundament, and in the way it is realized.
Two new members are integrated into the Ottetto on “Fugace” (Massimo Greco on trumpet and Beppe Caruso on trombone), Trovesi has created a new set of compositions, inspired by the whole history of jazz, and the palette of the group has became richer, through the use of electronics by Fulvio Maras, Marco Remondini and Greco.
The title “Fugace” is a play on words, frequent in Trovesi’s oeuvre. It refers to the passing, the impermanent, like improvisation itself, born for the moment and then “over, gone in the air”, as Dolphy said. But inside the title lurks the musical term “fuga” or fugue, that high geometrical expression of European musical architecture: and scattered through the CD are recurring harpsichord samples that recall Trovesi’s beloved Scarlatti.
“As Strange as a Ballad” opens and closes with a sombre melody sung by the clarinet over an ominous electronic background, and after the main theme Beppe Caruso and Marco Micheli make concise improvised statements, showing an ability of summarizing in a few notes the piece’s inspiration.
The Orpheus legend has inspired composers from all ages, and “Sogno d’Orfeo” makes several allusions to the historical memories of the theme, even if this specific Orpheus seems destined to find his Eurydice, perhaps in a Crescent City club…Vittorio Marinoni’s drums shine in their simple effectiveness, and Massimo Greco on trumpets is an authoritative leader for the collective.
“African Triptych” – a title with Ellingtonian overtones – combines a polyrhythmic base with a stately theme from the brass, reminiscent of the Gabrieli school, and then explodes in controlled free-funk energy. In the second piece of the suite there are three layers: Maras’ pecussion, lush chords from the winds and a complex Trovesi solo. Their interaction establishes a dramatic crescendo, supported by the quick figures of Micheli’s electric bass. In the final segment Greco’s trumpet gives his personal version of the blues, almost a contemporary version of the “Saeta” by Miles Davis and Gil Evans, and then gives way to an animated conversation between alto, trumpet and trombone.
“Canto di Lavoro” – “Worksong” – is an antiphonal theme inspired by Afro-American folklore, and first delivered by the vocalizations of bass clarinet and trombone, then to a “groove” on top of which screeches Remondini’s distorted cello.
The four “Siparietti” (sipario is curtain in Italian, and a siparietto is a short, usually comic interlude in traditional burlesque) present in four different forms a theme stated by the sampled harpsichord and then subject to variations: in the first the winds perform a dance arrangement of the theme, with subsequent contrast with electronic tones and short improvisations; in the second there’s a repetitive loop of the harpsichord playing the first theme, in the third the same keyboard plays the whole piece. The fourth and final opens with a sample of deformed cello sound, and then the theme played by harpsichord appears again, with heavy resonance, as if heard through a series of empty rooms in an abandoned palace. “Il Domatore”, “The Tamer”, dedicated to TV and radio producer Adriano Mazzoletti, is a piece in two sections: the chamber music atmospheres of the first emphasized by bowed bass and cello, and a lively second part, with a trumpet-rhythm section ostinato over which trumpet and saxophone develop their solo improvisation in a hot jazz idiom.
“Ramble” begins with “Oh, Didn’t He Ramble”, the W. C. Handy piece that became a milestone of traditional jazz – usually played on the way back from the cemetery – fully restored in its street parade music essence by Marinoni military rolls, while Maras on woodblocks quotes Baby Dodds; in less than a minute the historical reproduction is over, and the piece evolves in a complex composition in which the classic theme is just one of the ideas, moving farther and farther away from its original form. “Blues and West”, meanwhile, seems to celebrate the kinship between Louis Armstrong and James Brown, even if Maras’ electronic effects come surging up, chilling the party atmosphere.
In “Fugace” the delicate harpsichord clashes with the free improvisation by Bonati and Maras, while the last piece, in three sections, is a sort of imagined missing movie in the filmography of Totò, the Neapolitan comic who’s still the best loved character of Italian movies and the creator of many of the language’s idioms. The Neapolitan puppet is visiting the Caribbean Islands but he brings with him an Italian nursery rhyme, “Alla Fiera di Mastr’Andrè”; he pays his respect to Tina Pica, his classical deep-voiced female foil, with a cello and bass pizzicato dancing on a background of mysterious noises, only to metamorphose into a slightly pensive calypso, revolving around the dialogue between Micheli on electric bass and Marinoni on drums. But it’s the pizzicato strings that come back for the finale, supported by the filigree of small percussions, in an atmosphere cyclically reminiscent of the opening piece.
The music on “Fugace” was first developed in the context of the stage production “Blues and West”, a joint commission from the Festivals of Orleans in France and Vicenza in Italy; conceived by Trovesi as a personal reading of the history of African-American musics, from origins to free-jazz. During its course the famous break played by Louis Armstrong in "West End Blues": Trovesi, with his typical taste for wordplay, used a paraphrase of the title of the famous King Oliver tune to allude to the other implications of the project. A further, original development will be its scenic realization in August 2003 at the Roccella Ionica Festival in Italy, with puppets by Giorgio Gabrielli, video, lights and stage direction by Cristina Catalani, Gabrielli and Roberto Masotti (more details at www.rocellajazz.it)
– Francesco Martinelli