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Music Review: Gianluigi Trovesi & Gianni Coscia – Frere Jacques: Round About Offenbach

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I don’t know if I have heard a more pleasant sounding record this year. The combination of Gianluigi Trovesi’s clarinet with the accordion of Gianni Coscia is simply marvelous. Their latest collaboration, Frere Jacques: Round About Offenbach has just been released by the always reliable ECM label, and it is really something special. I am certainly not alone in this opinion, as the liner notes were written by none other than the famous author (and fellow Italian) Umberto Eco.

One of the joys of this album is in the humor the duo bring to the project. The title itself is a play on the old French children’s song “Frere Jacques,” coupled with the jazz-inspired Round About Offenbach. The nineteen tracks are more of what I would consider a tribute to Offenbach than anything else. Sixteen are credited to Trovesi and Coscia, but the inspiration is Offenbach, especially his famously unfinished operetta Les Contes`d’Hoffman (The Tales of Hoffman).

There is a great deal of fun being had by all here. For one thing, Offenbach’s work has always been looked down upon by music snobs, primarily because he so enjoyed parodying other composers. Fortunately for all concerned, his reputation has grown enormously since his passing in 1880. The approach Torvesi and Coscia have brought to their recording is varied, to say the least. The operetta form is certainly present in the Offenbach pieces, but the duo add a great deal of their own personalities to the project as well.

One of the more surprising elements they have added is jazz. You hear it most especially in the clarinet of Gianluigi Trovesi, but the accordion of Gianni Coscia is no mere accompaniment. In fact, the eighty year old Coscia seems to be playing at the height of his powers. By the way, the “young” Trovesi is 67. While mentioning the ages of the respective musicians in the context of a review of their album may seem a bit out of place, I just can‘t help myself. In our youth-oriented culture it is so refreshing to hear artists who absolutely dismiss the relevance of any age considerations.

All of the context and age considerations aside though, in the end, the only thing that matters is the music itself. And Frere Jacques: Round About Offenbach delivers one of the most entertaining, and enjoyable listening experiences I have had in some time. After over 40 years in the business, the taste of ECM founder Manfred Eicher is impeccable – and as usual, he also produced the album.

Frere Jacques: Round About Offenbach is highly recommended, one of the finest records ECM released in 2011.

For anyone interested in seeing Trovesi and Coscia at work, the recently released DVD Sounds And Silence should not be missed. This documentary about ECM, Manfred Eicher, and a number of the label’s artists is extraordinary, and features some fascinating footage of Trovesi and Coscia in various settings.

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About Greg Barbrick