Il Pergolese marks the ECM debut of Neapolitan vocalist, composer, and arranger Maria Pia De Vito. Other members of this collective ensemble -- cellist Anja Lechner, pianist Francois Couturier, and percussionist Michele Rabbia -- are well known to fans of the label's offerings. De Vito has been recording since the mid-'80s. She's fronted killer ensembles led by Bruno Tomasso, Tino Tracanna, and Colin Towns, been in a trio with Ralph Towner and John Taylor, and issued several acclaimed dates as a leader, including 2011's stellar Mind the Gap. Though she has primarily established herself in jazz, international, and improvised music, she was trained classically in opera. Il Pergolese was commissioned by Festival Pergolesi Spontini di Jesi in 2011. It is a revisioning of the composer's work in fragmentary aspects, and an exploration of her themes and frames through modern composition, improvisation, and sonic invention. Couturier's "Amen" commences with his piano and subtle electronics by Rabbia; it was inspired by the Stabat Mater, and indeed, its haunted lyric line, articulated by Lechner's brooding, lonesome cello, leads directly into Pergolesi's Fac Ut Portem from that work. De Vito uses restraint to command the dynamic and timbre, allowing the words -- which she translated into Neapolitan in honor of the composer's love of Naples' art song and popular musics -- to flow deliberately but freely, making room for the composer's source melody alongside jazz and 18th century folk song. In the three group improvisations, "Fremente" and "In Compagnia D'amore I & II," the quartet reference Pergolesi's Nun si Chella Ch'io Lassaje and Tu di Saper Procura, respectively. In these works one can hear the composer's actual persona emerge from the improvisatory fragments due to the intuitive, disciplined interplay of the participants and De Vito's massive gift as a vocalist. "Chi Disse ca la Femmena" showcases the manner in which this group can take liberties -- in this case with one of the composer's Neapolitan songs -- weaving together the influence of jazz, Brazilian rhythms, and free improvisation without ever losing his thread. The set closes with Couturier's "Dolente," also inspired by the Stabat Mater. The pianist's use of the source harmonic fragment is stretched, taken apart, and re-formed in real time. De Vito is a wonder in soprano voice; first she provides an unfettered yet disciplined utterance of seemingly random syllables, followed by wordless improvised lines, and finally, Pergolesi's translated lyrics as Lechner and Couturier weave a near mystical, elliptical frame around her use of the original melodic conception. Il Pergolese is musically brave and sophisticated, and as deeply moving as it is provocative.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek