"Composing or improvising creates, announces, underlines and develops emotion. The story creates the emotion, and the emotion creates the story. The emotion provides the form and consequently provides the characteristics of the possible improvisation."
Gianluigi Trovesi, almost unchallenged among improvising clarinettists in Europe, was born in 1944 into a working-class family in the small Alpine village of Nembro, near Bergamo in northern Italy. Here folk and dance music were an intrinsic part of everyday life and the young musician absorbed them eagerly. He went on to study at the Bergamo Conservatory, gaining his diploma in clarinet in 1966. Hearing Eric Dolphy play at the Milan festival in 1964 was a significant experience, but Trovesi's interests and influences embraced virtually every type of music, from Italian folk to the jazz avant-garde, which was to stand Italy’s pre-eminent musical archaeologist in excellent stead in his subsequent career. By 1978, Trovesi had won first prize in a national competition for sax and clarinet and got himself a job as first alto and clarinet with the Milan Radio Big Band, a position he would occupy until 1993.
Trovesi arrived at ECM in 1994, his alto saxophone and clarinets soaring into the Skies of Europe proposed by the Italian Instabile Orchestra, perhaps the most outstanding idiosyncratic soloist in a band chock-full of them. He provided the label's runaway surprise hit of 2001 when he teamed up with his old friend, accordionist Gianni Coscia, on In cerca di cibo, a left-field recording brimful of mordant humour, improvisational wit, unrepentant nostalgia, and exceptional musicianship that roved easily between jazz and chamber music, folk and soundtrack music, with a hint of klezmer.
The duo returned in 1995 with an album of Kurt Weill and Weill-inspired improvisations, and a few years later applied a similar approach to German-born composer of French operettas, Jacques Offenbach, on Frères Jacques. Their explorations are free-wheeling and wide-ranging, likely to break into swing or rhythm and blues at a moment’s notice. London Jazz News called their collaboration “irresistibly enjoyable”.
Trovesi’s other projects on ECM include Vaghissimo Ritratto, on which he appears with Umberto Petrin (piano) and Fulvio Maras (percussion, electronics), hailed by the Irish Times as “improvised chamber music of stunning quality and adventure, melodic grace and rhythmic freedom” and Fugace, a rampant genre-hopping adventure by an all-Italian octet. His 2008 album Trovesi All’Opera – Profumo di Violetta is a typically quirky Trovesi take on Italian opera performed, as Ivan Hewitt wrote in the Daily Telegraph, by “a turbo-charged version of a traditional Italian town band”.