TROVESI – Gianluigi Trovesi set – Performed by Gianluigi Trovesi – clarinets, saxophones; Paolo Fresu – trumpet, Flugelhorn; Stefano Montanari – violin; Giuseppina Gerosa – oboe; Roberto Gatto – drums, et al. – Black Saint/Soul Note BXS 1032 (9-CD set), about 8 hours (Distr. by Harmonia mundi) [11/11/14] *****:

There’s no better way of experiencing a musician’s creative output than a career retrospective like this one, put out by Black Saint/Soul Note Records. In the case of sax & clarinet player Gianluigi Trovesi, both his life and its reproduction on CD are remarkable. Like colleague Steve Lacy, Trovesi’s musical landscape knows no boundaries. His interests have encompassed traditional jazz to the avant-garde to contemporary classical music. But unlike Steve Lacy, whose decision to include one tedious singer (his wife) hobbled his output [as some discs we receive do…Ed.]. Trovesi seems to have made the right turns and explorations every leap of the way. [In other words, no bad vocalists…Ed.]

As with all of the boxed-CD reissues in this series, the cardboard sleeves are mini-album covers, front and back. Only two of them are complete reproductions of their original vinyl covers and as such are useless to most Americans nonconversant in Italian [and without perfect eyesight…Ed.] The others have bare-bones listings of tracks and personnel. Hey, so what? As that 1962 commercial claimed, “It’s what’s up front that counts.”

Like Lacy, Trovesi started off in the Seventies in an experimental free jazz mode, exemplified in Baghet (1979). But if you can get past the no-holds-barred solo “Saltarello,” you’ll find treasures even in this callow release. The Village Fair (1997) is a mature work, but that doesn’t mean it’s stodgy and conventional. Trovesi seems to have been utterly unaffected by the smooth jazz plague that gripped America beginning in the eighties. Nearly all of his work is restlessly inventive, filled with unexpected figures and riffs, like “Banat Mood” with its spot-on timing and rhythmic dialogue between him and trumpet player Paolo Fresu. (Guido Manusardi’s piano interludes aren’t bad either.) Out of nowhere comes the final piece, “Three Basil Leaves” with its syncopated trombone sections, rhapsodic piano, and untamed clarinet, all sewn neatly together with abrupt transitions.

Humor plays a big part in Trovesi’s later work. On From G to G (1992) the music in “Dedalo” starts off with a whimper, then gradually spins into a frenetic mess with cackling saxophone and ostinato marimbas, snippets of synchronized brass, and bumptious tuba. “Hercab” first enlists the tuba as circus instrument, then Pino Minafra kicks in with “voice and noise,” adding a touch of silliness to this not-unpleasant Felliniesque composition. It ends suddenly, in the midst of a raucous New Orleans funeral. Play it for friends. They’ll shake their heads in amazement… and maybe ask to hear it again.

Like Mister Mxyzptlk from the Superman comics, Trovesi sometimes appears in other people’s masterworks, douses them with musical tricks, then departs, leaving behind witnesses scratching their heads. Such is the case with Aldredo Impullitti’s Missa (2001), which I think is a mass for skeptics. Scored for a complete orchestra and sporadic chorus, this curious piece opens with a jarring chord, as Trovesi’s bass clarinet wobbles its way through uncertain pathways. It is as if the church’s door is stuck closed and the music is trying to find a way in. It never does. Disquietude and fear lurk within the “Introitus” and the music steps tenuously through the scary “Kyrie.” Squeals of terror exude from the saxophones, and a discomforting chorus descends, only to disappear like a priest without answers. I won’t tell you how it ends, but in the “Agnus Dei” the chorus sounds like Carmina Burana played in Mxyzptlk’s fifth dimension. Trovesi is one session player extraordinaire.

There you have it. This set is the probably the only complete tour you’ll find of this musician’s life, a true character who blazed like a crown fire all over Europe and never even singed the American market.  Until now.

Disc List:

Les Hommes Armes
From G to G
The Village Fair
Around Small Fairy Tales
Rava Electric Five
Cinque Piccole Storie

—Peter Bates