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Enrico Rava: To Be Free or Not To Be Free

Ian Patterson By

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Freedom, it could be argued, is most deeply understood by those who have been somehow constrained against their will, or who have been prisoners of their own skewed vision of what it means to be free. Trumpeter Enrico Rava knows the meaning of musical freedom; he was part of the free-jazz scene of the 1960s and 1970s where chords were frowned upon, and made recordings almost at will in the 80s and 90s, "many of which were not necessary," he freely admits. Rava has learned that true artistic freedom does not lie in allegiance to a school centered on a highly conceptual approach to music, nor does it mean recording at the drop of a hat. True freedom, Rava has gleaned, means choosing to play freely or not, to play "in" or to play "out," but choosing, above all, to play what the mood dictates. And after half a century playing jazz, Rava is surer than ever of what he wants: "I'm 72; I like what I do to be necessary and important."

Since returning to the ECM fold in 2004 after a 15-year hiatus, Rava has produced some of the most important music of his storied career. Albums like Easy Living (ECM, 2004), TATI (ECM, 2005), The Words and the Days (ECM, 2007), The Third Man (ECM, 2008) and New York Days (ECM, 2008) have shown Rava to be enjoying a late-career high, playing and composing better than ever. Although he doesn't consider himself to be a talent scout, his working groups have allowed a stream of young talent, including pianists Stefano Bollani and Andrea Pozza, trombonist Gianluca Petrella and bassist Rosario Bonaccorso, to step into the international spotlight.

Tribe (ECM, 2011) is another powerfully seductive offering from Turin- born Rava. There are a couple of familiar faces in the lineup, like drummer Fabrizio Sferra and Petrella, but, not for the first time, some talented newcomers throw their hats into the ring, challenging and inspiring Rava once more. Pianist Giovanni Guidi, bassist Gabriele Evangelista and guitarist Giacomo Ancilloto bring a youthful zeal to the ensemble sound, and will all be names to watch out for. Rava gets the best of the musicians around him by allowing them the utmost freedom to express themselves within the confines of his very democratic tribe.

All About Jazz Does the title Tribe have any special significance for you?

Enrico Rava: It didn't have it at the beginning. I recorded it in 1975 with [guitarist] John Abercrombie, [bassist] Palle Danielsson and [drummer] Jon Christensen, for ECM. My pianist now [Giovanni Guidi] wanted to play it and I said, "Why not?" It sounds very contemporary. But now that I've recorded it, I think that Tribe is not only the right title for the CD but also for my band because really I feel it's like a tribe-a very democratic tribe.

AAJ: On Tribe, you've recruited a couple of old colleagues in trombonist Gianluca Petrella and drummer Fabrizio Sferra, and a few newcomers in bassist Gabriele Evangelista, pianist Giovanni Guidi and guitarist Giacomo Ancillotto. Were you specifically looking for a balance between old and new blood for this CD?

ER: No, no, no. I call the musicians because I like them. They can be 16 years old or 95 years old. I'm not a talent scout. It often happens that they are very young because the young musicians are closer to my vision of the music and they have a lot of energy. I don't like too much to play with people of my age. I feel closer to younger people, but there are some contemporaries of my age who have the same vision I have. I play with them very often, and I'm very glad to do it.

AAJ: Who, for instance?

ER: One of the very few Italian musicians of my age who I enjoy playing with is [pianist] Franco DAndrea. Another is The Dino & Franco Piana Jazz Orchestra, a great pianist and composer. Dino Piana-who is now 82-played all his life in a radio orchestra, but when he was about 30 and I was 20, he was just playing jazz. Everybody wanted to play with him all over Europe, but then he joined the orchestra. When he retired, he started playing only jazz. When I have the possibility I call him, and for me it's always a great pleasure to play with him because he's very open. [drummer] Aldo Romano is another musician. But most of the musicians of my age tend to stick to what they were doing when they were at the top of their trend, and that's no good for me.

AAJ: On Tribe your connection with Petrella sounds really intuitive; the pair of you sound like siblings. Tell us a little about what it's like playing with him and what he brings to the mix.

ER: First, let me tell you that I met Gianluca when he was 18. I knew his father, who was a very good trombone player, too. A couple of years later, Gianluca came on a long tour with me in Canada at all the festivals, and he stayed. The rest of the people changed, but he stayed. I have a special relationship with two musicians-one is Gianluca and the other is [pianist] Stefan Bollani-a kind of telepathic thing where when we play it's like we talk to each other all the time. These are the best musical relationships I have had in my life; another one was with [trombonist] Roswell Rudd many years ago. With Gianluca, I have the same kind of rapport.


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