27 February 2007

Enrico Rava
The words and the days
He just keeps getting better...
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It’s only February, but I can state without fear of later contradicting myself that this album is going to be on my top ten list of recordings in all genres of music for the year – and very likely at the top of all of 2007’s jazz releases. It’s that good. It’s absolutely stunning.

Enrico Rava has, over the course of his career (40+ years), continued to solidify his reputation as one of the most vital, innovative jazz players and composers in the world. His sense of melody, harmony, timing and mood have grown and matured over time to an incredible degree – his compositions flow with a natural, living spirit, possessing a life of their own. This current band, more than any other that he has had, plays with a unity of purpose and vision that elevates it to a plateau that few ensembles ever reach – it’s a complete joy as a listener to encounter music that is composed and performed on this level.

The personnel on The words and the days is the same as Rava’s impeccable 2004 release Easy living (which marked his return to the ECM fold after working with various other labels for a number of years), with the exception of Andrea Pozza replacing Stefano Bollani on piano. Bollani is a wunderkind, but Pozza has absolutely no trouble stepping into his slot. If anything, Pozza’s style might even make the band’s sound even closer, more empathetic than before. I got a little taste of him working with Rava and trombonist Petrella in a DVD of Rava’s performance at the 2006 Montreal Jazz Festival – his work in that performance (along with everyone in the band) was amazing.

It’s almost as if the five musicians are in touch with each other telepathically – the mark of a great ensemble in any genre, but especially in jazz. The interplay sounds too natural and spontaneous to be completely rehearsed (although some of it is no doubt arranged and charted) – I would go so far as to characterize it as ‘conversational’, the musical equivalent of a group of close friends talking, attentive but relaxed.

Rava’s trumpet work is, as always, as close to perfect as you’ll ever hear. Every player has his or her own style on whatever instrument they choose to employ – their personality and spirit flows through their playing into the ears, mind and heart of the listener. The notes flow from Rava’s horn at times like honey, or perhaps the first sunlight at dawn – other times there’s no escaping the fire at their heart – but his tone is never brash or harsh, and always controlled. I’ve read that he started out as a young self-taught musician playing the trombone, then heard Miles Davis and Chet Baker, causing him to switch instruments. He has taken that inspiration as a foundation and built a musical vocabulary that is uniquely his own, a sonic voice that is instantly recognizable.

The exchanges between Rava and Petrella are especially invigorating – listen to the incredibly beautiful lines they exchange on ‘The wind’ (a classic Russell Freeman composition) – it’s lovely to the point of making the heart ache. Pozza’s piano alternately accents, harmonizes, leads and mirrors the other two – his work on this recording leaves no doubt standing about his place in this group. Bassist Rosario Bonaccorso and drummer Roberto Gatto – each of whom contributes a composition to the set here – put in their usual stellar performances as well. Their playing is too intelligent and spiritually in tune with the rest of the group to ever be considered as ‘merely’ sidemen – they’re an integral part of this musical organism and play vital roles.

There’s not a weak track in the lot – any one of them could be cited as a standout, depending on one’s tastes and perceptions. ‘Art deco’, written by the great Don Cherry, is given a breathtaking duo treatment by Rava and Petrella – the two horns issue melodies that offer the listener quite a treat: they harmonize, intertwine, underscore, reflect and delight in each other. Eight of the tunes here are Rava originals, and each one shows how his compositional powers have been honed to perfection by his years of playing – and loving – his music.

If you love great, timeless jazz, you owe it to yourself to hear this recording. I can’t recommend it highly enough.