This could have been so cheesy, couldn’t it? Pergolesi-based improvisations by a jazz singer, a jazz pianist, a classically trained cellist and a percussionist and electronics manipulator – how many times have we heard this kind of thing and felt that it has produced little new of worth? Not this time. Neapolitan singer Maria Pia De Vito’s first recording for ECM sees her joining forces with three of the label’s regulars, and the results are imaginative, varied and wholly satisfying. Pergolesi is never far away – his thumbprint is there in recognisable fragments from the Stabat mater and Pulcinella, as well as less predictably in a batch of less well-known opera arias – but the quality of these four musicians is such that they can take his distinctive melodic energy and carry it into an improvisatory world very much of their own making.
De Vito sings it relatively straight some of the time, her voice tending more towards a sweet folk-like sound than a jazz one, but at other times she reels off into an expressive spectrum of riffs, scats and virtuoso extended vocal techniques; Anja Lechner, formerly of the Rosamunde Quartet, improvises with extraordinary lyrical beauty; François Couturier contributes cool wisdom and gentility; and Michele Rabbia’s concrète and transformative electronics add atmospheric magic. This isn’t ‘jazzed-up’ Baroque but high-class contemporary improv that draws on those styles to create a fascinating range of sounds and textures that constantly develops within a certain emotional framework of restrained intensity. Sections bleed into each other imperceptibly and there are no jolts or jars, so that the whole seems like one big fantasy. On a purely music level this is one of the most genuinely creative projects of its kind that I have come across, and while reactions to it will inevitably be personal, I for one shall be listening to it more.