Umberto Petrin

Voir Loin
Spasc(H) CDH 832.2

As involved with poetry and visual art as music, Italian pianist Umberto Petrin has long been concerned with a melding of these three lively arts. A published poet as well as a painter, his collaborations have ranged from those with metaphysical painter Walter Lazzaro and Italian poet Luigi Pasotelli to expected ones with top-flight improvising musicians such as alto saxophonist Lee Konitz and trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini – not to mention his membership in the Italian Instabile Orchestra.

Voir Loin is a compendium of this philosophy. For a start, there are improvisation on nine Petrin originals, an Ornette Coleman tune and a Thelonious Monk line by the pianist, bassist Giovanni Maier and drummer Roberto Dani, plus Israel-American tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist Assif Tsahar on two tracks. Another Instabile member, Maier has recorded with American alto saxophonist Tim Berne among others, while Dani has played with French clarinetist Louis Sclavis.

That takes care of the sonic part. Meanwhile one track features the trio’s sensitive, yet edgy accompaniment to poet Milo De Angelis reading his poem “I e 87”. As for painting, there are visual or color gradation implications in some of the titles, while one, “Rothko’s Enigma” with its harsh piano dynamic, plus repeated broken chords and rasgueado licks from Maier, comments both on American visual artist Mark Rothko’s rough abstractions and his unexpected suicide.

Although he can add a romantic sheen to his playing when he wishes, Petrin’s architecturally shaped improvisations are usually in the Monk–Herbie Nichols genre. This is made most clear on “Visioni di Petrouchka” – an allusion to Stravinsky or the beloved Italian clown? – where the introductory almost semi-classical sweeps soon turn tremolo and resolve themselves as an exuberant fantasia. Taking on a Monkish inflection the organic doubled lines are then drawn out with rough-hewn bass strokes and bell-like rattles from Dani, as the pianist downshifts to sweeping high-pitched sounds.

On the other hand “Nervosa Avidness, Peter, Iridium, Carver” references Nichols’ cross-handed cadences and carefully voiced patterns. But here, Dani adds rattles and bounces, Maier knits circular strokes around the others and Petri’s jagged cross patterns mutate into a rendition of the head of Monk’s “Evidence”, heard on the next track.

Except for some descending bass clarinet clusters at the very end, Tsahar’s only showcase is in the second half of “As the Doors Swing Open, Crack or Slam”. Entering playing ultra-vibrated split tones, the tenor saxophonist encourages the pianist to turn from ruffling, structural cadences to clipping tones. Meanwhile, higher- pitched glissandi from the bassist make common cause with the reedist’s multiphonics. Is it any wonder that less-than-90-second subsequent track is the faux Cool jazz “Please, Relax…”?

Unsurprising Petrin’s reading of “Lorraine”, an early Coleman line characterized by double-stopping from Maier is Monkish as well. As for “1 e 87”, those familiar with both the Italian language and its poetry would best be able to judge.

While non-Italian speakers can’t determine whether the pianist reach his third goal of uniting improvisation and poetry, the chiaroscuro lines he implies in his conic creations confirm that melding of the other two arts takes place.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Clair de Lune 2. Reflex and Refractions 3. Nervosa Evidenza, Petre, Iridi, Carver 4. Evidence 5. Rothko’s Enigma 6. As the Doors Swing Open, Crack or Slam* 7. Please Relax 8. Lorraine 9. Visioni di Petrouchka 10a) Chiarore Residuo 10b) 1 e 87+ 11) Chiarore Residuo*

Personnel: Assif Tsahar (tenor saxophone and bass clarinet*); Umberto Petrin (piano); Giovanni Maier (bass); Roberto Dani (drums and percussion); Milo De Angelis (voice)+