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“Vaghissimo ritratto” means, among other things, “a beautiful picture”, “a vague impression”, “a lifelike image”. This ‘chamber improvisation’ project initiated by Italian reedman Gianluigi Trovesi introduces a new trio and pulls together graceful melodies and musical portraits from all manner of sources: Palestrina, Orlando di Lasso, Monteverdi, Josquin Des Prés, Jacques Brel, Italian pop singer Luigi Tenco, as well as pieces by the group members individually, and spontaneous collective compositions. It is an exceptionally broad spectrum covered here, amounting to a journey through melody in Western art music, as well as an examination of the craft of the songwriter in a wide context.

The seeds for the project were sown in 2001 when Gianluigi Trovesi and pianist Umberto Petrin were invited to play at concerts to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Alfredo Piatti, the Bergamo cellist-composer beloved of Liszt and Mendelssohn. Their deconstructions of his melodies opened up ideas for a fresh ECM project – especially after drums/electronics/sampling man Fulvio Maras was drafted into the group. With his experience in theatre music as well as his history of working with Trovesi in his Ottetto (“Fugace”), Maras is able to envelop atmospherically the interaction of clarinet and piano and to imply connections between the wide ranging repertoire. ‘Meetings’ with the ghost of Piatti – sometimes only fleetingly glimpsed through the prism of their improvising - comprise a red thread through an album which contains some of Trovesi’s most captivating playing and marks an impressive ECM debut for pianist Petrin.

Now recognised as one of the most important figures in European improvisation, Gianluigi Trovesi came to ECM with the Italian Instabile Orchestra on “Skies of Europe”, then issued three further discs under his own name: two in the popular duo with accordionist Gianni Coscia – “In cerca di cibo”, “Round About Weil” –and one with his octet (the aforementioned “Fugace”). A multi-reed player, Trovesi brought a range of clarinets and saxophones to the recording session in Udine for “Vaghissimo ritratto” but ultimately chose to concentrate exclusively on the alto clarinet for this session. “It was an impulsive decision, based on the sound of the room and the blend with the piano.”

Umberto Petrin has toured alongside Trovesi in the Italian Instabile Orchestra; he joined the orchestra as pianist in 1997, taking over from the departing Giorgio Gaslini. He is well known as both a widely-published poet and a pianist in his homeland and, indeed, plays the piano poetically. He has edited and contributed to several important literary journals, and worked with many of the major Italian musicians and international players including Steve Lacy, Lee Konitz, Tim Berne, Paul Rutherford and many others. His musical soundworld has been influenced by Skryabin on the one hand and Thelonious Monk on the other, and consequently he knows a great deal about sound-colour and wayward rhythm.

Fulvio Maras has toured and recorded with leading figures of Italian jazz including – in addition to Gianluigi Trovesi – Giancarlo Schiaffini, Paolo Damiani, and Bruno Tommaso, and given concerts with international players such as Ralph Towner, Pierre Favre and Kenny Wheeler. He has worked in jazz, orchestral, ‘world music’, theatre music and pop contexts and is highly skilled as both a percussionist and player of electronic instruments. On this disc, in addition to jazz drum kit, he plays an AKAI sampler, a Roland Handsonic percussion pad, and a Mac computer.

CD booklet includes session photos and liner notes by Steve Lake.