If "spontaneous composition," rather than the term "free improvisation," suggests the ability to collectively grab apparent form from the ether, then Italian woodwind multi-instrumentalist Gianluigi Trovesi's Vaghissimo Ritratto deserves to be cited as one of its clearest examples. Teamed with pianist Umberto Petrin, with whom Trovesi has worked in the Italian Instabile Orchestra, and percussionist Fulvio Maras, a member of Trovesi's octet responsible for the superb Fugace (ECM, 2003), this is intimate chamber improvisation of the highest order.
Not all the material is rooted in collective extemporization. Artists as diverse as French songwriter Jacques Brel, Renaissance composer Josquin Desprez and Italian popster Luigi Tenco are represented alongside original compositions by members of Trovesi's trio, magically blurring the stylistic differences seemingly inherent in a program of music that spans centuries.
Claudio Monteverdi's solemnly majestic "L'Orfeo" receives a literal reading, but is ultimately an introductory segue to Trovesi's "Grappoli orfici." The Renaissance/Baroque seamster's theme acts as the starting point for solos by both Petrin and Trovesi that organically marry classicism with the jazz vernacular. Here Maras' percussion adds color, not rhythm, in contrast to the trio's playful "Serenata," which first alternates between Petrin and Trovesi, with Maras adding marimba-like electronics and an undercurrent of ambient sound. The three ultimately come together, leaving Maras alone as the improv segues into another Renaissance piece, Orlando di Lasso's "Matona mia cara."
The trio regularly takes the idea of a single player, fleshing it out into a collective piece that feels as if it were intended all along. "Primo apparir" begins abstractly, with Petrin settling into a gentle, Satie-like vamp over which Trovesi layers a lyrical melody. The sublime beauty and simplicity is unsettled by Petrin's occasional dissonance, and Maras' subtle electronics and percussive rumblings. That the trio can move as one when seemingly unexpected changes emerge is testimony to its uncanny chemistry.
Maras rarely delivers a firm pulse, though there are exceptions. The improvised "Mirage" is driven forward by Maras, with Petrin injecting sparse support for Trovesi's haunting, somewhat Middle Eastern melodies.
The trio's ability to blend music from centuries past with modernistic treatments is most notable on Luca Marenzio's "Al primo vostro sguardo," where Maras' electronic keyboard introduces the piece with Harold Budd-like ambience. Maras moves to spare percussion as Petrin takes over with a melancholy set of changes kept slightly off-center through hints of dissonance. The trio moves to a more literal treatment when Trovesi enters, but ultimately returns to Maras' ambient soundscape for the piece's outro.
Extremes are kept to a minimum, with nuance and subtler dynamics used, instead, to create a deep resonance. But don't mistake Vaghissimo Ritratto's graceful elegance for a lack of adventurous spirit. There are plenty of risks taken on Vaghissimo Ritratto, but its true beauty is how, with Trovesi, Petrin and Maras' telepathic movement with a singular purpose, it just doesn't sound like it.
Personnel: Gianluigi Trovesi: alto clarinet; Umberto Petrin: piano; Fulvio Maras: percussion, electronics.