Enrico Rava and Thomas Stöwsand (ECM 1166 & 1224)

On October 5, 2006, the audible world lost a tireless champion. Thomas Stöwsand was a musician and journalist by trade when he joined forces with Manfred Eicher in 1970. Over the next decade he helped lay earth for the secluded pantheon that the label would soon become. From early on he believed that the best way to promote ECM’s quickly growing scene was to bring it directly to the consumer. The crowning achievement of his efforts was the booking agency Saudades Tourneen, which he founded in 1983. Consequently, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, and Pat Metheny found themselves touring for the first time before European audiences. A healthy chunk of Stöwsand’s complete roster reads like an ECM hall of fame: John Abercrombie, Bill Frisell, Egberto Gismonti, Ralph Towner, Paul Motian, Dave Holland and many others all had the great fortune of being sucked into his whirlwind of passion. “I know he loved their music,” observes Nonesuch’s Bob Hurwitz, “but I think Thomas loved them as people even more.” This was, as Hurwitz goes on to say, a part of his legacy. I imagine it is also part of the legacies of every musician he represented. These were the people he surrounded himself with, the ones who fanned a flame much too extroverted to contain. Stöwsand lived fast, drove fast, and seems to have made connections as easily as one might breathe. His personal touch was felt, and still is felt, worldwide, as Saudades carries on his mission through the pioneering forces of John Zorn, the Kronos Quartet, Fred Frith, and the many others who funnel decades of close working relationships with the man into their unquenchable creative thirsts.

Yet behind his acute business acumen, infectious personality, and resounding laugh, Stöwsand was also quietly producing a fascinating catalogue of albums. Nearly all of these were available only on JAPO, though thankfully a gleaming handful of Manfred Schoof material has since been reissued on CD. There were two albums, however, that dropped needles directly to flagship vinyl. Both were recorded with Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava’s fledgling quartet at the famed Tonstudio Bauer and were the only two Rava albums not produced by Eicher. The first of these, the curiously titled >>Ah<< (released 1980), featured bassist Giovanni Tommaso and drummer Bruce Ditmas, while 1982’s Opening Night placed Rava alongside bassist Furio Di Castri and the great Aldo Romano on drums. Both feature Franco D’Adrea, whose pianism lights up even the darkest corners. Bafflingly, neither album has felt the touch of a laser, and so, for what it’s worth, here’s a play-by-play.

ECM 1166

Enrico Rava Quartet
>>Ah<< (ECM 1166)

Enrico Rava trumpet
Franco D’Andrea piano
Giovanni Tommaso bass
Bruce Ditmas drums
Recorded December 1979 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Thomas Stöwsand

Feeling a little under the weather? Then open up and say Ah, because Doctor Rava is in! This warm rainy day session is the perfect sonic elixir for what ails you. The sumptuous diagnostics of “Lulu” lay their pianistic hands upon us first, and with them the album’s leitmotif. Rava and D’Andrea are in fine conversational form here, as they ever are, cracking open a Pandora’s Box of free improv before re-attuning to a smoldering vamp. Rava starts us off strongly in “Outsider,” in which he swings his rhythm section around and around like children holding hands in a field. A swift kick from Ditmas brings us solid thematic closure. “Small Talk” allows Tommaso his just airtime in what is by far the highlight of the examination. Rava checks our pulse in the groovier “Rose Selavy,” breezes wistfully through the title track, and gives way to “Trombonauta,” the album’s brief yet impactful ballad, before ending “At The Movies.” This eclectic ode breathes with the magic of Cinema Paradiso while threatening to topple from the weight of its own remembrance.

<< Gary Peacock: Shift In The Wind (ECM 1165)
>> Art Ensemble of Chicago: Full Force (ECM 1167)

… . …

ECM 1224

Enrico Rava Quartet
Opening Night

Enrico Rava trumpet, fluegelhorn
Franco D’Andrea piano
Furio Di Castri double bass
Aldo Romano drums, guitar
Recorded December 1981 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Thomas Stöwsand

“I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” welcomes us with open arms as Rava skips, keens, wails, and laughs his way along this journey filled with nostalgia and multilingual communication. D’Andrea is downright ecstatic as he stumbles into a teaser of an ending. The title track is the album’s showpiece, unraveling from its languorous intro into an urgent stretch of virtuosity. Rava brings unwavering life to his playing, always playful, always present. “Diva,” on the other hand, is far mellower and arches its back across dusky skies.

Side B kicks off with a “Grrr.” Aside from being perhaps the greatest title in the Rava catalogue, it also ignites D’Andrea as he runs through prickly fields with supremely targeted chording. “F. Express” brings some pop to the album’s snap and crackle, further accentuated by unstoppable antics at the piano, while “Venise” again turns down the lights to a comforting level of solitude. “Thank You, Come Again” brings some rat-a-tat-tat platitudes to bear upon one of Rava’s catchiest tunes. Replete with cascading pianism and downright transportive trumpeting, this is as good as it gets.

This diptych shows off Rava at his liveliest and hones noticeable edges in the freer passages. For this listener, however, D’Andrea nails the spotlight every time he puts his fingers to those black-and-whites, leaving us with two exciting dates that are beyond ripe for reissue, and which are a vibrant testament to a producer, promoter, and friend whose indelible fingerprints continue to glow in even the darkest ignorance.

<< Jan Garbarek: Paths, Prints (ECM 1223)
>> Dewey Redman Quartet: The Struggle Continues (ECM 1225)

2 thoughts on “Enrico Rava and Thomas Stöwsand (ECM 1166 & 1224)

  1. …Bravo for such a warm, much-needed testimonial to a clearly relevant cog in the ECM evolution. And it is such a delight to see reviews of two of the most obscure – but surprisingly engaging – released in the entire catalog. These are clearly key missing pieces in the evolution of Rava’s playing and musical journey, and help to fill in the dots between Pilgrim/Plot and Easy Living/Tati.

  2. La stupenda copertina argentea di Michelangelo Pistoletto spiazzò gli intransigenti feticisti dell’ECM – ci onoriamo di appartenere alla categoria – abituati alle tradizionali immagini, ora evocative, ora enigmatiche, dell’etichetta tedesca. Per questo, forse, Ah non viene mai citato tra i migliori album di Enrico Rava né tra le grandi pagine per tromba jazz, pur essendo entrambe le cose. Per ¾ italiano, il superbo quartetto legittima un sussulto di orgoglio nazionale, col fiatista accompagnato da Franco D’Andrea* (pianoforte), Giovanni Tommaso* (contrabbasso) e Bruce Ditmas (batteria). Gli arrangiamenti si caratterizzano per la capricciosa oscillazione ritmica tarata dalla coppia Tommaso/Ditmas, per i guizzanti virtuosismi di D’Andrea e per gli imprevedibili fraseggi di Rava, in cui si alternano con grande espressività attimi di pathos, scatti di euforia, oasi di quiete, borbottii di collera. Nell’ambito dei vari titoli, tutti composti dal leader, segnaliamo i fenomenali assoli di D’Andrea su Lulu, Outsider, Ah e gli slanci lirici di Rava su At The Movies e Trombonauta. Ai cultori di questa formula strumentale raccomandiamo anche Portrait Of Art Farmer, Live In Tokyo, Flabula, J Mood, Tribute To The Trumpet Masters. [P.S. – *2/5 del Perigeo.]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s