Enrico Rava: TATI (ECM 1921)


Enrico Rava

Enrico Rava trumpet
Stefano Bollani piano
Paul Motian drums
Recorded November 2004 at Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: James A. Farber
Produced by Manfred Eicher

In between The Third Man, trumpeter Enrico Rava’s duo project with pianist Stefano Bollani, and Easy Living, which nestled both musicians in a quintet of astonishing synergy, the duo welcomed late drummer Paul Motian into the studio for an album of flickering yet intense balladry. TATI continues Rava’s great journey on ECM, this time paying homage to legendary French actor and auteur Jacques Tati (1907-1982).

This set of 12 mixed tunes is a retrospective on at least two fronts. First, with classics like Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” and Rava’s own “Cornettology” burnishing the trio’s sound to a coppery sheen, one can’t help but note the cigarette smoke of old cinema in the air, moving from black and white to color and back again. Motian is mostly cymbals, with the barest touch of snare grazing the edge of the occasional footprint. Second, the album puts leader and sidemen on the same plane, so that each bears equal weight. Their glorious take on “E lucevan le stelle” from Puccini’s Tosca is a perfect example. What begins as a stunning display of Rava’s lyrical gifts, shooting through the night like an arrow, in the second half swivels in favor of Bollani and Motian, Rava ornamenting only as needed. That said, there’s hardly anything minimal about this music. It is, rather, dense with implication and stories yet to be told.

The wonder of this combination of musicians is especially obvious in tracks like “Golden Eyes,” Bollani’s “Casa di bambola” (Doll’s house), and “Fantasm.” The latter is one of three tunes by Motian and finds Rava shaking his horn like the brush of a drunk calligrapher. “Birdsong” and “Gang of 5” are the others, both pianistic reflections that speak of French impressionism. Although the connection between Rava and Bollani is so complete that the drums aren’t necessary on paper, Motian’s contributions are indivisible within the album’s holistic approach. The burnished quality of the recording matches every lilt and imbues this unprecedented meeting with further sanctity.

If not for its title, we might never associate TATI with the fumbling, if endearing, Mr. Hulot. It speaks, rather, to the child-like practicality of Tati’s heart, that comedic compass which swept its needle toward a shared community of laughter and social commentary. Flashes of his playfulness do come out now and then (e.g., on “Jessica Too”), but for the most part it remains hidden, implied. Either way, this release is as masterful as he was, to be savored as a bottle of wine that keeps refilling itself between listens.

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