Is there a genre called Italian Jazz?At the turn of the twenty-first century, globalization of jazz has been a major concern in music academia and in the popular music journalism. Recently, what is called 'jazz' can be evaluated as a globalized genre that various ethnic and cultural groups attributed their own meanings to respectfully with their historical values, although its roots are based on the social, political and economic conditions of African-Americans. During its history, the absorption and transformation of influences from diverse musical styles resulted in the creation of sub-genres of jazz.
by Yaprak Melike Uyar
Besides the United States, the jazz scene of Europe that has a significant influence on such a process, where various ethnic groups blended their local or art music traditions with jazz and becoming a predominant destination where jazz has being performed. Considering jazz in Europe, the contribution of the ECM record label or the European free improvisation scene can't be disregarded while evaluating jazz as a genre in its various recent cultural settings. One of the 2007 releases of ECM, Vaghissimo Ritratto album by Gianluigi Trovesi, Umberto Petrin and Fulvio Maras, is an indication of how various styles can be gracefully blended around jazz improvisation by means of reflecting the influences of various genres, historical periods or one's own roots within jazz tradition.
Led by a classically trained Italian clarinetist Gianluigi Trovesi, Vaghissimo Ritratto references twentieth century composition, minimalism, Italian pop, the traditional music of his own lands and even Renaissance period music. Although Trovesi is a woodwind multi-instrumentalist -who performs with alto saxophone, piccolo, alto or bass clarinet in various live performances and recordings- he chose alto clarinet as his main instrument in the recordings of this album. His collaboration with pianist Umberto Petrin is rooted in the Italian Instabile Orchestra, which he's been a member of since 1991. Electronic and acoustic percussionist Fulvio Maras was a member of Trovesi's octet responsible for the Fugace album also released by ECM in 2003. As a classically trained musician, Trovesi gained his diploma in clarinet in 1966 from Bergamo Conservatory. His immersion in jazz and free improvisation dates back to '70's; during his career, he collaborated with renowned improvisers such as Anthony Braxton, Manfred Schoof and Evan Parker.
Vaghissimo Ritratto consists of 16 tracks, and it is possible to divide the album into four sections according to the composers of the pieces, the time period that they reference to or the genre that they inspired from, regardless of the track numbers. The first section is like a commemoration of Alfredo Piatti, the Italian cellist who lived between 1822 and 1901 and who had a profound influence on cello history (MacGregor, 2008). The second group can be mentioned in respect to European art music history, especially the Renaissance period. The third group consists of interpretation of two popular music pieces. Lastly, the fourth section both includes individual compositions of the musicians or the collective improvisation of the three of them, which couldn't be included in the concepts stated above.
The first group is like a commemoration of Alfredo Piatti in the album, and includes six pieces. Piatti was born in Bergamo, the home town of Trovesi. This section can be named as Ritratto di Alfredo Piatti accordingly with the first piece's title. Serving as an excellent introduction for Piatti, the piece is a composition by Trovesi, blended by the collective improvisation of all of the musicians on the preexisting composition, and starting with a piano accompaniment of Umberto Petrin that significantly references Erik Satie's "Gymnopedie I." The 5th piece of the album also can be included in this section, named "Ritratto di Alfredo Piatti /Secondo Apparir," which is a Trovesi composition. Then there is the 7th piece, "Ritratto di Alfredo Piatti/The Lover's Appeal/Terzo Apparir," the 13th piece "Ritratto di Alfredo Piatti/My Little Maid and I," the 15th piece "Ritratto di Alfredo Piatti / Far, Far Away" and lastly, the 16th piece called "Ritratto di Alfredo Piatti / Vaghissimo Ritratto," all of which are Trovesi compositions also.
The title of the album was inspired by one of the madrigals of Renaissance period, by Italian composer Palestrina, named "Da Cosi Dotta Man," and has a meaning as "the most beautiful portrait." The last piece (the title track) is a valuable commemoration of Piatti.
The second group of pieces that references the Renaissance period includes the performance of the ritornello section of the one of the first operas in music history, Claudio Montreverdi's "L'Orpheo." Besides that, Jasquin Des Prez's frottola "El Grillo" and "Al Primo Vostro Sguardo" magrigal of Luca Marenzio can be included in this section. Also their improvisation on the villanella of Orlande de Lassus called "Matona mia cara" can be included in that group. Considering western art-music history, these composers had a significant influence in the Renaissance period. Considering the fact that the leader of the album is a classically trained musician, who performed in lots of classical music orchestras besides jazz orchestras and free improvisation collectives, the existence of such important compositions of the music history in this album is significate in respect to his own roots and influences as a classically trained musician. The group's arrangement of "Al Primo Vostro Sguardo" contains lots of modern elements like a plenty of electronic percussion and an organ like sample of a keyboard. Considering the authenticity issue, it may seem a bit problematic. However the fact that these features blended so elegantly to original composition, I think that this section is like a good example of re-arranging sixteenth century music in the 21st century. Also in their instrumental arrangement of Prez's "El Grillo," a voice whispers the first two lines of the original text of the composition, that are "El grillo e buon cantore, Che tiene longo verso." Including the original text of the frottola, this is an indicator of the aim of reinforcing the meanings of the composer, within their own interpretation.
The third group of pieces includes the trio's interpretation of one of the most popular compositions of Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel, the piece called "Amsterdam." The second one is a piece called "Angela" by Italian popular music singer Luigi Tenco. Their arrangements of both of these pieces are influential in the popular music history, which is also a significant factor which shows that Vaghissimo Ritratto touches diverse musical traditions while interpreting them with their own musical appreciations.
The fourth and the last group of pieces of the album consists of collective improvisations on pre-existing material or their own compositions. This section includes Trovesi's composition "Grappoli Orfici," the trio's collective improvisation "Mirage," Fulvio Maras's composition "Particolare di J. Donne" and Petrin's "Canto Vago." This section can be interpreted as the most reflective part in the means of hearing the influences of the musicians' backgrounds. Almost all of the improvisations are inside the borders of tonality. Pianist Petrin's modest accompaniments and melodic lines are filled with delicate touches, while rich harmonies contribute to overall tranquility of the album. Besides using a standard jazz drum kit, Fulvio Maras enriches the sound with electronics, derived from an Akai sampler, a Roland Handsonic percussion pad and a Mac computer.
As such, on this album, Trovesi draws references from Western art music, especially Italian tradition of Renaissance period, popular music, contemporary composition and also European jazz improvisation that he blended with his own musical background. So why is this album is listed under the jazz genre in the stores, criticized by jazz critics, played in jazz radio programs or may be included in the literature of jazz? The absorption and transformation of influences from diverse musical styles resulted in the creation of a style in which he expresses his Italian musical background within the jazz tradition, considering art, popular and folk music traditions of his own lands. This album can be considered to be a respectful nod to his own roots.
The effects of technological advancements in the music industry, and power structures there, the influences of popular culture and globalization have an effect on the formation of most popular music genres. Regardless of including jazz in popular music studies or not, it's a fact that this music has been performed in many destinations all around the world, and various musicians continue to express their own identities with jazz. A wonderful example is Jan Garbarek, the Norwegian saxophonist, who reflects his influences from traditional music of Norway, Western art music and jazz. Similarly, in Vaghissimo Ritratto, the expression of Italian art, popular and art music background within jazz tradition can be interpreted as a crucial effort in this respect. As it effortless soaks up so many influences and sensibilities, can we just call this music 'jazz'?
Gianluigi Trovesi- alto clarinet
Umberto Petrin- piano
Fulvio Maras- percussion and electronics
1. Ritratto Di A.P.: Primo apparir
3. Grappoli orfici
5. Ritratto Di A.P.: Secondo apparir
6. Al primo vostro sguardo
7. Ritratto Di A.P.: The lover's appeal/Terzo apparir
9. El grillo
10. Particulare di J. Donne
12. Serenata/Matona mia cara
13. Ritratto Di A.P.: My little maid and I
14. Canto vago
15. Ritratto Di A.P.: Far far away
16. Vaghissimo ritratto.
Da cosė dotta man, 2008. In ChoralWiki.
MacGregor, Lynda. 2008. "Piatti, Alfredo." In Laura Macy, ed., Grove Music Online.
Carlo Alfredo Piatti, 2008. Wikipedia entry.
Jan Garbarek, 2008. Wikipedia entry
Martinelli, Francesco. Biography of Gianluigi Trovesi
Mulatu Astatke, 2008. Wikipedia entry.
Vaghissimo Ritratto, From ECM Records.
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