Enrico Rava in Baltimore
An Die Musik
April 1, 2006
Enrico Rava and Dado Maroni, fresh from a series of sold out concerts at the Italian jazz festival at Birland in New York, recently played to an intimate crowd at Baltimore's "An Die Musik . The venue appears to be on the radar of ECM, as many of the label's artists make the trip to the concert hall/parlor and record store (Tomasz Stanko, Bobo Stenson and Ralph Towner have made the journey). Concert series producer Bernard Lyons lept to the stage twenty minutes after the scheduled show time and denounced the local media, once again, for failing to promote the evening's event. Indeed, it was somewhat embarrassing to see that only two dozen people attended the concert on a recent Saturday evening. Lyons' contempt, however, should be addressed to radio stations, whose lack of independent and intelligent programming have spoon fed corporate pabulum to poorly informed automatons disguised as consumers. While he is at it, Lyons should also focus upon the print media, who are more concerned with the sales and advertising copy of free morning papers which can be nibbled upon in a few minutes while waiting for a turning traffic light. In short, Lyons was complaining to those who made the effort to show their support for the brilliant trumpeter, who touched down briefly to show the audience a bit about the European perspective on the music.
The recent and brief tour coincided with "Tati , Rava's most recent release on the ECM label. The record is yet another beautiful expression in the portfolio of ECM, demonstrating how the Europeans are developing jazz (the latest cover story of DownBeat addresses the topic). Upon listening to the new record, I expected a series of hushed and contemplative originals bathed in the glow of subtle expression. I was thus somewhat surprised when the evening began with a languid performance of the standard "Nature Boy . The melody was stated simply enough, and Rava breezed through a series of swirling legato phrases. Pianist Maroni provided ample support although, at times, he seemed to approach the music from a different perspective. While Rava is more akin to European trumpeters such as Tomasz Stanko and Palle Mikkelborg, Maroni demonstrated his well-grounded affinity for Oscar Peterson and Tommy Flanagan. After the ten minute performance, Rava noted that the composition was featured in Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge and that Rava always thinks of Nicole Kidman when playing the selection.
Rava dedicated "Cheek to Cheek to Fred Astaire and, once again, he stated the melody simply and ambled gently and pensively through the jazz standard. Perhaps surprisingly, there was little evidence of his previous work with the avant-garde; there were few, if any, bleats and splatters and he rarely ventured beyond a stated tonal center. Maroni emerged from his previous and merely supportive role to that of an equal partner in the conversation. His flourishes were grand and all encompassing, yet ultimately failed to connect on an emotional level. The stated dedications to Astaire made me think that Rava was quite pleased to play on these shores, and he felt compelled to show his appreciation for the culture. Although Rava did not state the name of the "popular Italian song he played as a third selection in the first set, he seemed to ease into a more European sensibility, hinting at country folklore and sunny piazzas.
Rava informed the audience that Jobim is one of his favorite musicians (along with Chet Baker and Luiz Bonfa) and continued his performance with "Retrato em branco e preto". The selection, however, was not infected with the rhythm of Brazil. Although the phrases were certainly polyrhythmic, they lacked the carefree atmosphere associated with bossa nova.
Rava concluded with an original "Algir Dalbughi ; he said it was a nonsensical reference to an Algerian boogie woogie. The composition was featured on his previous ECM release, "Easy Living , and finally satisfied my preconceived notion and expectation of the evening's performance. It had a distinctive compositional construction, so often present within Rava's tunes, and the trumpeter was more forceful and assured when stating the melody and interacting with Maroni. Although there were hints of boogie woogie, there was an indescribable and unfocused quality about the piece. Moreover, Rava finally displayed a sliver of free form playing, gliding through the scales without regard to key or bar line.
Although I have yet to read Mike Heffley's recent book, "Northern Sun, Southern Moon: Europe's Reinvention of Jazz , it is on my shortlist of necessary musical studies. Rava has certainly played an important and integral role in the stylistic articulation of a more cerebral jazz music developed away from American shores. It is an improvised chamber music, with its foundation in the respect for America's inherent expression of improvisation but constructed with a more formal and European classicism. Furthermore, the music lacks the energy and optimism that is often in American music. It is, rather, hushed in "old world romantism and quiet resignation. Rava plays the role perfectly, and many ECM releases have become the stylistic emblem of these musical ideals.
I spoke to Rava after the performance and asked whether the title of the new album is a tribute to French filmmaker Jacques Tati. He confirmed that it was and we had a splendid conversation about our respective admiration for the brilliant societal observations of the neglected comedian. Rava's wistful nostalgia, for careless laughter in darkened Paris cinemas decades ago, seeps through his music, much like Tati's seemingly innocent comedy is sheathed in a gauze of longing and melancholia. Indeed, Rava's music reflects a stylistic imperative that is absent in the music of American musicians. It is this perspective that I value in Rava's approach to the music, and which I hope he continues in the context of Manfred Eicher's European label; it is a perspective upon the music which can easily inform, as well as entertain, about another part of the world.
Jose Manuel Horna