Gianluigi Trovesi & Stefano Montanari – Stravaganze consonanti
(ECM 2390. Review by Julian Maynard-Smith)
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Italian clarinettist and saxophonist Gianluigi Trovesi occupies a similar musical territory to French reeds player Louis Sclavis (and to a lesser extent Michel Portal), being rooted in a distinctly European tradition of improvised music stretching from Renaissance music to European jazz and contemporary classical music. He also shares with Sclavis the misfortune of being garlanded in his home country and continental Europe but remaining relatively unknown in the UK, despite a string of lovely albums spanning decades: a sign, alas, of a British tendency to seek jazz at home or across the Atlantic in preference to across the English Channel.
Another parallel: Trovesi’s Stravaganza consonanti is a homage to Renaissance and Baroque composers, performed with a period-instruments orchestra led by Baroque violinist and conductor Stefano Montanari, and it shares many musical affinities with Sclavis’s album Inspiration baroque (2016). Except that (another sign of mystifying neglect) Stravaganza consonanti was actually recorded earlier, way back in January 2014, but not mixed until September 2021 before finally being released on ECM in February 2023.
But at least it’s available now. The Renaissance music period (generally considered to be 1400–1600) is represented by Guillaume Dufay, whose Kyrie 1 has been covered by groups as diverse as the Hilliard Ensemble and the Kronos Quartet and which showcases the ensemble’s strings, as does Josquin Desprez’s Mille regretz. Baroque composers include three relatively unknown Italians, Giovanni Maria Trabaci (the eponymous Consonanze stravaganti – literally “consonant extravagances”), Giovanni Battista Buonamente (Sonata decima sopra “Cavalletto zotto”) and Andrea Falcolnieri (La suava melodia). All three performances whet the appetite for seeking out the original compositions.
But the most represented composer is the far-from-obscure Henry Purcell, with three compositions from his opera Dido and Aeneas alone, ranging from jaunty interpretations of The Witches’ Dance and The Triumphing Dance to a suitably lachrymose Dido’s Lament (“When I am laid in earth”); to a strident and triumphal The Gordian knot unty’d, and a lengthier piece For a While, credited to “Gianluigi Trovesi, with fragments from Henry Purcell’s Music for a While, arr: Corrado Guarino” – and the fact that this piece is arranged by a jazz composer highlights the fact (as if our ears hadn’t already told us) that this album is genre fluid, flowing gracefully between adherence to a score and improvisation; between period instruments (such as archlute and dulcian, a keyless precursor of the bassoon) and modern instruments (Trovesi plays piccolo clarinet, alto clarinet and alto saxophone); and even leaping musical centuries, as evidenced by two tracks co-composed by Trovesi and Fulvio Maras (“percussion, electronics”).
Don’t let the word “electronics” put you off. On those two Trovesi/Maras tracks, the musical anachronisms don’t extend to anything as jarring as synthesiser, merely a bit of sound manipulation: Dissolvenze convergenti is a solo clarinet piece reminiscent of Edgar Varèse’s strikingly modernist solo flute composition Density 21.5, but with multi-tracking and echo; and Karaib’s Berger is alto clarinet and saxophone given looping treatment somewhat reminiscent of John Surman’s solo outings but with Maras on percussion. Do these tracks fit the Renaissance/Baroque mould? No, but it doesn’t matter. They’re highly listenable in their own right and like palate cleansers, or perhaps musical equivalents of breaking the fourth wall, of reminding the listener that this is time-travelling (or maybe timeless) music drawing inspiration from multiple sources and wearing its anachronisms lightly.
Similarly the closer Bergheim (again, Trovesi, arr: Guarino) largely sheds any pretence that this is purely Renaissance and Baroque music, this time simply having lots of fun playing a dance-like tune with jazz inflections on both period and modern instruments. What more could any jazz fan want?