Enrico Rava: New York Days (ECM 2064)

New York Days

Enrico Rava
New York Days

Enrico Rava trumpet
Stefano Bollani piano
Mark Turner tenor saxophone
Larry Grenadier double-bass
Paul Motian drums
Recorded February 2008 at Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: James A. Farber
Produced by Manfred Eicher

New York Days brings Enrico Rava full circle to its eponymous city, a major flashpoint in the Italian trumpeter’s long and geographically varied career. Joined by the other two sides of the TATI triangle—pianist Stefano Bollani and drummer Paul Motian—along with bassist Larry Grenadier and, in his first ECM appearance, tenorist Mark Turner, Rava fronts a set of nine originals and two group improvisations. The latter are, in a sense, the glue that holds the album together, representing as they do the precision of this ad hoc quintet’s molecular makeup. These freer spells glow gas-stove blue in the night, their hearts forever aimed at honesty.

The lion’s share of the set list is balladic in nature, starting things off smokily with “Lulù.” Bollani emerges in an early wave with unforced persuasion, lending context to Rava’s Poseidon lyricism. In this tune one feels the city after hours: the shine of rain-slicked asphalt, the whoosh of empty taxis, the flicker of untended streetlights. But then…a surprise from Turner, whose horn implies snatches of club life within earshot. By the intermingling of “Certi Angoli Segreti” (an album highpoint), it’s clear the reedman has his telescope pointed to a star we’ve never been able to see through all the dazzle before. His arpeggiations are the light of its fission, the mere presence of which inspire pointillist heights in Rava, and in the pianist an uncannily classical sparkle.

The contrast between the two horns is unusual. Rava and Turner hardly mesh throughout the album’s 77-minute duration. They are two strangers in the night whose soliloquies overlap in complementary ways. Their distinct tonal signatures require them to seek out instances of harmony. The resultant dialoguing further bears the stamp of Rava’s deep love for cinema. Quintessential in this regard is “Interiors,” which sounds for all like the theme song to a Woody Allen film never made. Its nameless tragicomic protagonist wanders alleyways in the wake of that which can never be requited. The mastery of Turner’s protraction here, the fog of his expressionism, makes monochrome of color. The listener is all the richer for being made privy to such naked depth-soundings.

Bollani also works the shadows throughout in ways that cannot be overestimated. Through the solemnity of “Count Dracula” and the heavy nostalgia of “Lady Orlando,” his gestures leave heavy traces. Furthermore, he blows bubbles through “Outsider” and “Thank You, Come Again,” exceptions to the album’s brooding sanctum. Whether anchored by a restless Grenadier in the former’s straight-laced fantasy or spurred along by Motian’s fine-grained timekeeping in the latter, he is the yeast in the brew.

Rava is, then, not so much the leader as the hub of this outfit. He speaks with a narrative voice as charcoal as Bollani’s is pastel, fragments the beat with the same fearlessness as Motian, extends his roots as thirstily as Grenadier, and exhales with as much fluidity as Turner. Such affinities embody what ECM is all about: bridging continents and creating new ones along the way. Like the classic “Blancasnow” (in its most sensitive treatment yet) that caps off this unforgettable experience, it fades into white, every footprint the start of a new path.

(To hear samples of New York Days, click here.)

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