Enrico Rava Quartet w/Gianluca Petrella: Wild Dance (ECM 2456)

2456 X

Enrico Rava Quartet
w/Gianluca Petrella
Wild Dance

Enrico Rava trumpet
Francesco Diodati guitar
Gabriele Evangelista double bass
Enrico Morello drums
with
Gianluca Petrella trombone
Recorded January 2015, Artesuono Recording Studios, Udine
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher
U.S. release date: August 28, 2015

Wild Dance documents yet another chapter in the career of Italian master trumpeter Enrico Rava, who for this outing has assembled one of his most exciting bands to date. Along with guitarist Francesco Diodati, bassist Gabriele Evangelista, and drummer Enrico Morello, he welcomes back into the fold trombonist Gianluca Petrella, whose darker brass has added memorable contrast to Rava’s quintet albums over the past 13 years. Just as many Rava originals, both new and old, populate the set list of this latest ECM collaboration, with a collective improvisation added in for good measure. The latter format, which falls penultimate in the set list, is a good litmus test for any jazz outfit, and in this respect the band succeeds beautifully. Overlapping just enough to yield thematic intimations while allowing each instrument to speak personal truth, it journeys with optimism on its sun-faded sleeve.

All of which makes “Diva” all the more alluring for noir-ish saunter. In keeping with that atmosphere, the band caresses every flutter of Rava’s hardboiled romanticism with austerity. Diodati and Evangelista are this opener’s heart and soul, stretching and tensing by turns as Rava walks the alleyways in search of connections. “Space Girl” continues the thread with similarly half-lit cinematography, by means of which Morello discloses the underlying bonfire of physiological activity required to pull this music off with such smoothness of intuition.

Rava and Eicher
Enrico Rava with producer Manfred Eicher (photo by Luca D’Agostino)

“Don’t” radically changes the album’s exposure, moving with that same swagger but opening up the aperture through Petrella’s delayed entrance. In his hands, the trombone becomes a fully vocal entity that is equal parts storyteller and troubadour. His notecraft bespeaks an itinerancy that never fears the unknown. Whether winding around Rava’s core melody at the end of this tune or jumping headfirst into the animations of the next (“Infant”), he plays with fire as a house cat might a mouse—batting it around just enough to stun without the need for a kill. Such restraint is required of all the musicians under the bandleader’s employ, for even at their most unleashed (as in the up-tempo gems “Cornette” and “Happy Shades”) they make sure to keep a sizable portion of their unity within frame. Further contributions from Petrella are studies in contrast, adding humor to “Not Funny,” liquidity to the title track, and bite to the otherwise smooth “Monkitos.”

Enigma is the name of the game in “F. Express,” which by electronic whispers opens a dialogue of swinging proportions. This also happens to be one of its composer’s finest throwbacks to hit the digital shelves in some time, and is an album highlight—not only for its atmospheric acuity, but also for the archaeological care with which it is unearthed. A lone bass introduces “Sola” at length before the core-tet fleshes its skeleton with dreamlike locomotion. As if talking in his sleep, Rava spills inner secrets with the offhandedness of a sigh. “Overboard,” for its part, recalls the album’s moodier beginnings and finds the band gliding over shifting waters. In tandem with the unmistakable trumpeting, Diodati surprises with a gritty solo that stands out in an album of many standouts.

All of this and more abounds in “Frogs,” which showcases the band’s vibrancy to its fullest. Every instrument sings in this roving gallery of impulses and rhythm changes, making for a fitting closer to one of Rava’s finest.

(To hear samples of Wild Dance, please click here.)

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 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.)

Enrico Rava: TATI (ECM 1921)

TATI

Enrico Rava
TATI

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.

Enrico Rava/Stefano Bollani: The Third Man (ECM 2020)

The Third Man

The Third Man

Enrico Rava trumpet
Stefano Bollani piano
Recorded November 2006, Auditorio Radio Svizzera, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher

One cannot necessarily put too much stock in a cover photo as an accurate indication of the album with which it is associated. The Third Man is an exception. We see Rava leaned over a Steinway, at which sits longtime musical partner Stefano Bollani. The trumpeter regards his compatriot with seeming wonder. The pianist, in turn, regards Rava’s wonder with more of the same. We may read further into the image the presence of a producer, of an engineer—people who dedicate their lives to shaping a performance as it is shaped by those who so selflessly yet unmistakably bring it to fruition. All of this and more can be heard in “Estate.” Singer-songwriter Bruno Martino’s jazz standard finds renewal in the combination of instruments and opens an album of peerless shape, an album wherein tower the invisible pillars that hold up the sky and keep our dreams forever bouncing within the shaken snow globe of experience. After such an involved reverie, the freely improvised title track sprouts like a rose among the weeds of Bollani’s plucked strings. Dedicated to Orson Welles, who so wryly embodied the titular character of Carol Reed’s 1949 film, the music brims with film noir atmospherics.

One could almost pick out Rava’s originals by their titles alone. “Sun Bay” and “Sweet Light” speak equally to their composer’s optimism: lush, golden, and brimming with promises twice fulfilled. Both prove there is more to the soloist’s task than evoking a title or story, for such goals are as subjective as the means that inspire them. So while Rava’s clarion arpeggios taste of brine, they also harbor certain darkness, born of an observant soul. Here is a man who melodizes as he speaks: which is to say, from the heart. The tender “Birth Of A Butterfly” breaks chrysalis alongside the jagged architecture of “Cumpari.” Their juxtaposition enacts a coherence of balance through no small display of technical acuity. Although Bollani ties tighter knots as he progresses, and even contributes a tune of his own (the veiled “Santa Teresa”), Rava unravels each with the skill of a sailor, and ties a few in return throughout “In Search Of Titina.”

The duo’s shared interest in South America comes across in two pieces. Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Retrato Em Branco Y Preto” (which, incidentally, draws inspiration from “Estate”) is almost supernatural in the way it sings, as if it were of another world. “Felipe” (by the late Brazilian composer Moacir Santos) stretches canvas for Bollani’s primer and the swish of Rava’s fan brush. The disc ends with variations on “Retrato Em Branco Y Preto” and “Birth Of A Butterfly,” each the complement of the other: echo, reflection, resolution.

The Third Man sounds like windblown grass, the scurrying of animals in underbrush, the sway of trees in autumn. It feels like the squish of wet sand between the toes, the weight of eyelids before sleep, warmth in the chest of one who remembers love. In such a context, neither is Rava a mere bringer of melody nor Bollani merely his accompanist. They are the music itself.

The profundity of this encounter therefore cannot be overstated. Not because Rava and Bollani ply the listener with any sort of abstract philosophy, but for the simple fact that their art requires that listener to survive. In Rava’s playing is the burn of exerted muscle and the trail of a tear in kind; in Bollani the flow of water and technology. The album is, then, also a portrait of the venue in which it was recorded. Says Bollani of the Auditorio Radio Svizzera, “It’s not like being in a studio…. This recording really has a character all its own.” These words ring truer than their utterance, for the unfolding documented here would never have taken place without the collaboration of spatial and temporal forces above and beyond our range of detection. Let it be your radar, a voice in the night without fear.

Enrico Rava Quintet: Tribe (ECM 2218)

Tribe

Enrico Rava Quintet
Tribe

Enrico Rava trumpet
Gianluca Petrella trombone
Giovanni Guidi piano
Gabriele Evangelista double-bass
Fabrizio Sferra drums
Giacomo Ancillotto guitar
Recorded October 2010, ArteSuono Studio, Udine
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Master trumpeter Enrico Rava deepened his ECM impression with the release of Tribe, a recording that places 12 original tunes on the shelf for the discerning listener’s perusal. The lineup is formidable, as Rava welcomes a reconfigured, all-Italian quintet of standby Gianluca Petrella on trombone, along with newcomers Giovanni Guidi on piano, Gabriele Evangelista on bass, and Fabrizio Sferra on drums.

“Amnesia” doesn’t so much kick as brush things off with rubato waves. It’s just the sort of easy living Rava perfected in his earlier record of the same name, a breadth of atmosphere and intention that breeds lyric after wordless lyric. Although often characterized as a “front line,” Rava and Petrella’s relationship is far more nuanced, overtaking one another as they do here like birds in practice flight. Neither needs a steady beat for guidance, and the band as a unit is content to let them float above the rhythm section’s fibrous thermals. In the title track, too, they retain a playful edge, as also in the closing “Improvisation.”

The sagacity of Tribe lies in the fact that no single theme holds its charge for too long, but instead bows to the whims of organic forces beyond even the musicians’ control. Classics like “Cornettology” provide bursts of focus within the album’s blurry terrain, but these are few and far between. Their shadows cycle through myriad rhythms, moods, and textures—each a testament to their creator’s unflagging spirit. Newer tunes are even more so inflected. Between the glorious, curry-flavored tangents of “Choctaw” and the billowing “Incognito,” Rava works the (mono)chromatic ways of his enigma with style. Guidi’s sparse pointillism is translator to the trumpeter’s code and smoothes things to the tenderest of finishes. Neither can we escape the photographic sensibilities of “Paris Baguette.” With a single click of his shutter, Rava evokes two lovers at an outdoor café, so intently locked into each other’s gaze that an oncoming storm poses no threat to their simpatico. “Planet Earth” emerges in likeminded spirit, a loving hymn to this place we call home, which despite its vagaries blossoms like this very music as a salve against the horrors we sometimes face. Here is also where Sferra shines with playing that is bubbling and spirited.

Guitarist Giacomo Ancillotto sits in with the band on four tunes, adding especial tactility to “F. Express” (reprised from its buried appearance on Opening Night) and “Tears For Neda.” With solemnity and grace, Ancillotto draws subtlest attention to himself. He compresses the power of travel into lyric balladry, drawing strings of light from earth to stars and playing the night air like the soundtrack to a dream. Two shorter pieces, “Garbage Can Blues” and “Song Tree,” round out the set with fresher feelings, burnished like cork and cherry blossom spray. The overall effect is such that any gestures of regularity glow like phosphorous in the session’s emotional mise-en-scène, leaving us with souvenirs unlike any we’ve heard before.

Rava Quintet

Enrico Rava Quintet: The Words And The Days (ECM 1982)

The Words and the Days

Enrico Rava Quintet
The Words And The Days

Enrico Rava trumpet
Gianluca Petrella trombone
Andrea Pozza piano
Rosario Bonaccorso double-bass
Roberto Gatto drums
Recorded December 2005 at Artesuono Recording Studio, Udine, Italy
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The Words And The Days follows Easy Living, which marked the studio return of Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava after a 17-year hiatus. More than the continuation of a comeback, it constitutes a self-contained entity with its own dreams. It is only natural, then, that the title tune should flow like a soundtrack to those dreams. Verdant and sincere, it hangs, as might a contended hand over the side of a boat, cutting a path through the water. Rava seems to paint that vessel’s wake while the intuitive drumming of Roberto Gatto renders every glint of sun thereafter with photorealistic detail. Yet despite these sundrenched beginnings, where Easy Living was warm and fuzzy all over, we generally encounter a cooler sound in this mostly Rava-penned program.

Gatto and bassist Rosario Bonaccorso hold fast to their formidable dual role, at once supportive and pace-setting. Rava is happy to follow wherever they may lead, with often-joyful results. In “Secrets,” for instance, some of his formative Brazilian influences jump from the woodwork. Meanwhile, trombonist Gianluca Petrella puts his enigmatic stamp of things. Although his language can be fiercely chromatic, this time around he moves under the table in search of forgotten crumbs. He works a quiet magic in the Russell Freeman standard “The Wind,” engendering a chain of lilting calls, while in “Serpent” he preens his feathers to the tune of a slick, rubato synergy. Most of that synergy he shares with Rava, reigning clearest in “Art Deco,” a three-minute duet that crosses the straight and the curved and pays tribute to its composer, the great Don Cherry. Petrella and Rava trade more brass arrows in Gatto’s “Traps,” evoking a big band on an intimate scale, balancing the pans with its breezy concentration. As a player, Gatto’s adaptive panache figures centrally in “Bob The Cat.”

Pianist Andrea Pozza, replacing Stefano Bollani from the last session, marks a shift in the group’s sound. His reflective approach adds monochromatic atmospherics to “Echoes Of Duke,” taking the session’s feet from its picturesque murk and washing them anew with a more classically rendered style. Rava digs deepest on this expedition, unearthing a plethora of finely preserved artifacts. In this regard, the bandleader excels highest when he is cut loose, as in the cinematic veils of action and soft-focus drama of “Tutù” and the stretch of empty road that is “Todamor,” which unrolls its horizon after a viscous monologue from Bonaccorso entitled “Sogni proibiti” (Forbidden dreams). Although unpopulated, that horizon is filled with stories. Rava is confident behind the wheel in taking us there, navigating an echoing corridor with superb control of every gear. And as he pulls us into the driveway of “Dr. Ra And Mr. Va,” of which the strangely somber exterior only thinly veneers a fiery heartbeat within, it is clear that the journey has only just begun.

Enrico Rava: Easy Living (ECM 1760)

Easy Living

Enrico Rava
Easy Living

Enrico Rava trumpet
Gianluca Petrella trombone
Stefano Bollani piano
Rosario Bonaccorso double-bass
Roberto Gatto drums
Recorded June 2003 at Artesuono Recording Studio, Udine
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Enrico Rava has singlehandedly defined Italian jazz as a technical wizard. More importantly, he has also enlivened its soundscape with a playbook that balances verve and thoughtfulness. After a 17-year hiatus, the trumpet champion returns to ECM among his trusted quintet with what might just be his finest album yet (an opinion shared by Rava at the time of its recording). Wherever it may rank in your mental charts, it is a comfortably burnished standout in his discography, due in no small part to the artful brilliance of engineer Stefano Amerio.

Not since Annette Peacock’s an acrobat’s heart has an ECM cover photograph so well captured the atmosphere of the music behind it. Indeed, the thoughtful sincerity of “Cromosomi” unfurls a palette befitting of Roberto Cifarelli’s warmly hued portrait. Rava’s interaction with the young trombonist Gianluca Petrella is close-eyed, intuitive, and lays the groundwork for some crystalline reverberations. The gorgeous pointillism of Stefano Bollani and coruscating accents of drummer Roberto Gatto paint the last rays of sunset. Make no mistake about the title’s significance: Rava’s approach is fiercely biological, so attuned is it to the mutual appreciation of his band mates. “Drops” follows with a handful of candy, turning the chromosomal into the chromatic at the touch of a keyboard and setting the stage for Rava’s soaring flights in “Sand.” Using a slack backdrop as trampoline, he devises lyrical acrobatics and microscopic exchanges galore. Rava continues in this vein throughout the title track, the only one not composed by him, backed by support that has the consistency of meringue and is just as sweet. “Blancasnow” is another brief exercise in pure intonation. Fans will recognize it as the concluding track of his ECM debut, The Pilgrim And The Stars, and here its austerity is even more heavily shaded.

Lest the listener think that Easy Living is all drift, “Algir Dalbughi” plots a hard swing at album center. From Petrella’s ebullient harmonizing comes a vast, big band sound and foils Rava’s extroverted heights with pale fire. Bassist Rosario Bonaccorso opens “Traveling Night” with a fluttering solo and leads the band into another flowing diary entry. Gatto communicates hyper-effectively with Bollani as Petrella fires off a round of humid motives. “Hornette And The Drums Thing” is the finest track of the set and an even finer vehicle for the drummer, who jumps, skips, and shuffles his way through the deck like a blindfolded magician—though he has some acutely observant spectators in Petrella and Bollani following his every move. Rava’s sweep is characteristically melodic and assured. His fingers stir up their own concert, notes singing by like arrows. Gatto’s full-on wizardry quiets into a lush carpet for the band’s legato breakdown, bringing us at last to “Rain,” which draws the curtains, breaks down the set, and bids farewell in style. Between Gatto’s cymbal-laden drizzle, Bonaccorso’s thick sags, and Bollani’s varietal drama, there is plenty to admire in this luxurious sendoff.

Easy Living is the perfect album for an afternoon drive or lethargic morning alike. Its verdant fields and canopied paths smell of a grandmother’s food: no matter how many times you eat it, it will always taste like home.

Essential listening.

Enrico Rava: “Quotation Marks” (JAPO 60010)

Quotation Marks

Enrico Rava
“Quotation Marks”

Enrico Rava trumpet
Jeanne Lee vocal
John Abercrombie guitar
David Horowitz piano, synthesizer
Herb Bushler bass
Ray Armando percussion
Warren Smith marimba, percussion
Jack DeJohnette drums
Finito Bingert tenor saxophone, flute, percussion
Rodolfo Mederos bandoneón
Ricardo Lew guitar
Matias Pizarro piano
El Negro Gonzales bass
Nestor Astarita drums
El Chino Rossi percussion
Recorded December 1973 at Blue Rock Studios, New York
Engineer: Jane…
Produced by David Horowitz and Jack Tafoya
Recorded April 1974 at Audion Studio, Buenos Aires
Engineer: Nello
Produced by Nano Herrera

“Quotation Marks” was a milestone for Italian trumpeter, now ECM mainstay, Enrico Rava. In addition to being his first of many projects on Manfred Eicher’s watch, it was his debut as leader. The record blends two sessions into a seamless program. The first (December 1973) went down in New York City, where he was backed by guitarist John Abercrombie, drummer Jack DeJohnette, keyboardist David Horowitz, bassist Herb Bushler, and percussionists Ray Armando and Warren Smith. The second (April 1974) placed Rava in Buenos Aires alongside Radolfo Mederos on bandoneón, Finito Bingert on tenor sax and flute, Matias Pizarro on piano, Ricardo Lew on guitar, and percussionists Nestor Astarita and El Chino Rossi.

Of this fine assembly, Mederos’s sound rings foremost. His lovely bellows open “Espejismo Ratonera” with a lilting air before Pizarro’s smooth pianism flushes its alleys clear for less straightforward melodic explorations. Touches of tango warm the cockles, making for an easy, patient entrance to Rava’s dancing grammar. Youth and joy are obvious in his playing, which by a clever turning of the knob bleeds back into the bandoneón with which the track began. American jazz vocalist Jeanne Lee sings lyrics by Argentine poet Mario Trejo in the “Short Visit To Malena” that follows. It too benefits from studio subtleties, fading in as if we were being escorted from one nightclub to another. We seem to wander in at mid-song and notice the crowd sipping their cocktails, arriving just in time for Rava’s trade-off to Abercrombie. (I cannot help but be reminded at this point, if you’ll forgive the comparison, of “Club Tropicana” by Wham!, which begins outside and plunges the listener into a club atmosphere once the door is opened.) “Sola” throws us headlong into the bounce of the South American band. A flute solo here from Bingert stands as the album’s highlight. Like a light streaking before an open lens, it lingers against the skip of bandoneón and snare. The track fades all too soon, just as Lew catches a tailwind. “San Justo” is another horizontal with dissonant verticals from Mederos and a gritty prison break from Lew. Lee rejoins the cast for the heavenly watercolors of the title track before her cathartic leaps float amid a heady beat of brassy beauty, while in the steady groove of “Melancolia De Las Maletas” she adds flips and dips. All of this gives plenty of ground for Rava to unleash his confidence, handing it over to Abercrombie for a crunchy and edible passage.

We know these musicians are capable of incendiary moves, which renders their restraint (and the occasional burst) all the more intense. Rava especially takes time to introduce himself into nearly every tune. Even those like “Water Kite” cloak him in a deceptively thematic role before asserting his personality at stage center. It is a testament to his maturity as a young player and deference to the talents with which he finds himself. The result is an unspoiled gem in the Rava discography that is more than worth the import price if you can afford it.

…. . ….

As a service to my readers, I’ve taken the liberty of translating the liner notes by Minoru Wakasugi that accompany the 2006 Japanese reissue, especially because the album has since become available far more cheaply via digital download, sans booklet:

Now available for the first time on CD is Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava’s 1973 work “Quotation Marks”, which shuffles together a New York session recorded that same year (tracks 2, 6, 7) and another recorded in Buenos Aires the following.

The story behind the South American session and its journey to CD is as vivid as the music’s colors.

At the very least, we can think of this record as marking the beginning of Rava’s relationship with Latin music. Since the 80s, imprints such as Soul Note (Italy) have boasted similar, richly hued sounds, but among ECM’s productions throughout the 70s there was nothing that so vividly repainted the label’s image. Unable to move about as he’d wished, and in something of a quagmire as he pondered his solo debut, Rava, no doubt inspired by ECM owner Manfred Eicher’s philosophy and the image he’d established, felt this was a good way to go.

Such instability wasn’t unknown to Eicher, as it had defined the young label’s activities thus far. Although that same year saw the production of Jazz a Confronto 14 – Enrico Rava on the Italian Horo label, by then the groundwork had already been laid in a slew of formative records.

And let us not forget his participation in soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy’s 1966 The Forest and the Zoo, also recorded in Buenos Aires. Although that album took him in an entirely unrelated musical direction, Rava’s first South American experience surely stirred the Latin blood lurking within him.

Not long after, he traveled to New York in 1967. In making the transition from the rundown streets of Buenos Aires to those of another metropolis, Rava was baptized in the waters of authentic free jazz. He returned home temporarily, only to find himself back in the Big Apple, by which time seven years had passed. In that period, he’d played with Carla Bley in the pianist-composer’s large-scale project Escalator Over the Hill (1971). Seeing as Bley’s WATT label had direct business relations with ECM, it was perhaps inevitable that Rava would come to know Eicher.

Living in a racial and cultural melting pot like New York placed Rava at world center. It was more than just a dollop of land in the eastern U.S.; it was a crucible of global influences that seeped into every part of the city and led him to Buenos Aires a second time.

He drew up his first South American sketch with Pupa o Crisalide, released on Vista (Italy), known for producing artists like Duško Gojković. Featuring such talents as Italy-based Brazilian percussionist Mandrake, the album was oriented more toward Brazilian fusion than Argentine tango and gained popularity even among the young club crowd. It was also my introduction to Rava.

One can hear from Pupa o Crisalide just how fulfilling his time in Buenos Aires was. He produced quite a few recordings there, and from them a wonderful body of work. “Quotation Marks” was essentially culled from the Vista outtakes.

Uniformity reigns in Pupa o Crisalide. And although the present CD is three recordings in one, laid down in Buenos Aires, New York (alternate takes), and locally in Rome, one can read balance into their triangular interrelationship. The colors are uniform, maintaining as they do a consistent temperature and climate.

On the other hand, it is also a sound-world where, by virtue of its intermingling, warmth and coldness, brightness and darkness butt up against one another, so that their urban commonalities come about through subtle variations. The stability of Pupa o Crisalide, then, no longer applies.

Not that “Quotation Marks” needs it. With Rava’s reverberant blat and tenacity, it obscures melancholy and sordidness, finding among the urban sprawl an inner spiritual world hitherto unseen. It is the same power of spirit that moves the Piazzolla Quintet’s Piazzolla at the Philharmonic Hall New York (1965) and anticipates the “neighborhood music” of Kip Hanrahan (of American Clavé fame) by decades.

None of this means that Rava was necessarily ready to jump the gun as leader, for he inevitably took on the “colors” of his costars, all of whom helped to draw out his magnetic attraction. Nevertheless, he made a huge impression. More than Rava’s skills and such, it was his commitment to a total concept that won listeners over, and the effect was incalculable. The combination with bandoneón was unique at the time, although now it will readily put ECM fans in mind of Dino Saluzzi. It was nothing so original as taking Saluzzi’s unique ambience and meshing it with the unsettling melodies of tango, but still one caught a glimpse of ECM’s innovation for treating the bandoneón as primary actor.

Rodolfo Mederos, who held the key to the South American session, is a bandoneón player of a generation younger than Saluzzi. And while he cherished his instrument as if he’d inherited it from Piazzolla himself, he also formed a rock-leaning band called Generación Cero (Generation Zero), and for a time was involved in activities that would seem to go against the Piazzolla grain. Nowadays we can chalk up these exploits to youthful indiscretion and self-reformation, but we need only look at tango master Osvaldo Pugliese, whose compositions were already heralding a new age of performance, to see their importance.

Ricardo Lew (guitar), Matias Pizarro (piano), and Nestor Astarita (drums), who assisted in Rava’s South American sketches with Mederos, were always looking to attract other local players. Pizzaro in particular was a central figure during this period in promoting and developing “folklorization,” an underground style of Andean fusion. Its effects continue to be an inspiration for modern-day outfits, like France’s Gotan Project, which trace their roots directly to tango. Along with late bombo drummer Domingo Cura (1929-2004), who inspired a reassessment of the genre from behind the scenes, these artists have charted the modernization of Andean music. We may not lay the same claims on “Quotation Marks”, but because we’re unveiling the album at this historical moment, in 2006, it is important to tease out the effects of everything going on around it. (Translation ©2013 Tyran Grillo)

Enrico Rava: On the Dance Floor (ECM 2293)

On the Dance Floor

Enrico Rava
Parco della Musica Jazz Lab
On the Dance Floor

Enrico Rava trumpet
Andrea Tofanelli trumpet, flugelhorn
Claudio Corvini trumpet, flugelhorn
Mauro Ottolini trombone, tuba
Daniele Tittarelli alto saxophone, flute
Dan Kinzelman tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet
Franz Bazzani keyboard
Giovanni Guidi piano, Fender Rhodes, toy piano
Dario Deidda bass
Marcello Giannini electric guitar
Zeno de Rossi drums
Ernesto Lopez Maturell percussion
Recorded live 20 May and 30 November 2011 at Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome by Massimiliano Cervini and Roberto Lioli, respectively
Mixed by Stefano Amerio, Enrico Rava, Mauro Ottolini, and Manfred Eicher
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The story of On the Dance Floor is destined to be a highlight of ECM apocrypha. Following the extensive media coverage of Michael Jackson’s death in 2009, Enrico Rava immersed himself in the King of Pop’s unparalleled songbook. “It became clear to me that for years I had ignored one of the great protagonists of 20th-century music and dance,” says the Italian jazz trumpeter. “A total artist, a perfectionist, a genius.” Going against the grain of mainstream opinion, he discovered an affinity for the relatively recent albums, notably HIStory (1995) and Invincible (2001). All of which makes this set of whimsical arrangements by Mauro Ottolini that much more heartfelt for being rough around the edges and, at times, obscurely chosen. Gone are the autotuned drones of studio-only memorials. In their place is an incendiary performance, recorded live at Rome’s Auditorium Parco della Musica, from which Rava’s backing band gets its name. And in this respect we have something more than a tribute. Indeed, it is a cannonball dive into the popular pool.

Rava“I felt the necessity to delve deeper into Jackson’s music
by adding something of myself to it.”

There is a telling sequence in Spike Lee’s 2012 documentary, Bad 25, during which one interviewee after another is moved to wordless tears when asked about MJ’s sudden passing. It is this poignancy, this inability to express an overwhelming sadness, that keys us into the importance of one man’s contributions to musical art. In light of this, what better way to begin the Rava program than with “Speechless”? The almost funereal piano intro would seem to indicate as much and gives us some moments to reflect on the legacy we are about to encounter, albeit in big band form. Somber horns weave a floating pyre, from which Rava sounds his dedication, accompanied only by harp before Dario Deidda’s bass draws a pliant line of tenderness. Gorgeous, breathy alto work from Daniele Tittarelli forms the lifeblood of a song that in its original form begins and ends with MJ alone:

Your love is magical, that’s how I feel
But I have not the words here to explain
Gone is the grace for expressions of passion
But there are worlds and worlds of ways to explain

Ottolini’s present version dutifully preserves these bookends, only now as a web of brass. This is followed by a sparkling rendition of “They Don’t Care About Us” (also off HIStory), which begins like an Art Ensemble of Chicago excursion before sliding into the Double Dutch chants that so distinctly mark the original. It brings a range of sounds to fruition, from an airy, orchestral sensibility via synth strings (which allude briefly to “Who Is It” from 1991’s Dangerous, otherwise unrepresented) to Dan Kinzelman’s spate of enraptured tenor discourse, and all of it threaded by Rava’s triumphant charge in a steep of delightful Reggae flavor.

From an icily evocative opening, “Privacy” (Invincible) launches into a potent chord progression that recalls Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” and flows with a swanky grittiness around a thread of electric guitar. The latter provides pulse and vocality to “Blood On The Dance Floor,” from the eponymous 1997 remix album. Yet here is where the project begins to reveal its true character in the lightness of approach, which at moments detracts from the feelings with which seasoned fans will be readily familiar. The rather straight-laced syncopations also eject a few nuances from the original song. Another curious thing happens with “Little Susie,” which, to one who doesn’t know the original, might seem a slow but nevertheless swinging tune, all the while missing out on both its lyrical power and controversial artist Gottfried Helnwein’s accompanying image in the HIStory CD booklet:

Little Susie

Somebody killed little Susie
The girl with the tune
Who sings in the daytime at noon
She was there screaming
Beating her voice in her doom
But nobody came to her soon…

Hints of this tragedy remain in the music box intro before giving way to Rava’s caramel tone, which unleashes washes of sepia and bleeding watercolor. Despite the gothic waltz-like qualities and sensitive subject matter, it breathes here with a far more positive life. Its pairing with “Blood On The Dance Floor” is a clever one, for both feature a Susie as protagonist. In one, she is victim; in the other, she is predator. The obligatory nod to “Thriller” suffers from a similar lack of context, while also acting as a prime vehicle for Rava’s superbly considered acrobatics. The fluidity of his virtuosity—at age 72, no less—is a wonder to behold, as is the trombone solo from the arranger himself. And one can’t help but revel in the free-for-all that erupts before the fanfare.

A surprising turn comes in Deidda’s solo bass rendition of “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” This intimate yet playfully inflected look at a classic tune from 1987’s Bad is remarkable, if abbreviated (it elides the middle 8), and paves the on-ramp to a rollicking “Smooth Criminal.” As the song that finally won Rava over to the MJ ethos, it delivers vitality in the soloing, yet one is hard-pressed to explain the blatant note change in the chorus. “History” provides a fitting summation, leaving us with a pleasant aftertaste as we go our separate ways to the tune of Rava’s impassioned extroversion.

Nestled among all of these is his favorite: the Charlie Chaplin-esque “Smile,” which finds the trumpeter at peak soul. One can almost feel the grain of black and white, its old-time charm lifting from the screen in a nostalgic dance. This tune works best of all, if only because it and its source pay homage to something that is beyond them both.

Although I grew up with Thriller in my veins, I concede to Rava insofar as MJ’s later work is far better than it is often made out to be. That being said, it is difficult to oust Bad from the throne it occupies in my listening heart. For lifelong fans like myself, Rava’s redux requires a few spins in order to take the album on its own terms, if only because the originals are so ingrained into our very DNA through years, and countless more to come, of experiential listening. Here one must encounter them anew.

It’s easy for us to talk about artists who lived long ago as if they were somehow among us. And yet, how do we evoke an artist whose absence is still fresh, whose life and work continues to intersect with so many millions of others? With all the MJ tribute albums already out there and those sure to come, drawing compilations of his preexisting or unfinished work, this one takes a newfound love for what drove him and turns it into something passionate and fun.

In the end, On the Dance Floor lacks the voice. By this I mean not only MJ’s phenomenal pipes, but also the words behind them. What distinguishes his later work is its mounting critique against an unforgiving media that searched for every possible opportunity to lambaste one of the most important artists of our time, as well as a more daring interest and insight into the darker corners of the human psyche (“Little Susie” being a prime example). By the same token, in spite of the many tributes which, ethically or not, have capitalized on his passing, here we have something joyous, uplifting, affirmative.

One can therefore see these as translations of a vibrant canon. Like translations, they are enjoyable enough on their own terms, yet how fortunate that the originals are accessible beyond all language barriers, for MJ will forever be a language unto himself.

(To hear samples of On the Dance Floor, click here.)

MJ
R.I.P. (1958-2009)