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Enrico Rava Quintet: Tribe

Greg Simmons By

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Italian trumpet virtuoso Enrico Rava masters improvised atmospheric landscapes on Tribe. His thick, dark horn quests for firm structure and often, not finding anything solid, rolls back and forth over the rhythm section as it collaboratively meanders through the soundscape. Being drawn into the adventure is almost irresistible.

"Amnesia" sets the expectation that this will be an exploratory affair, with the horns washing over the rolling arpeggios of the piano and arrhythmic bass and drum lines. Slow and melancholy—almost dirge-like—it drifts along, its saving grace lying in its melodic beauty.

Rava has chosen a somewhat unusual, and potentially awkward horn partner in trombonist Gianluca Petrella. Where a brash, blatty, delivery would do nothing to enhance the often-delicate compositions, Petrella's smooth, bronzed tone adds a complimentary depth and weight. The interplay between the horns seems to be less about playing written scores than Rava and Petrella following each other, as they echo each other's notes in real time.

Most of the compositions are intentionally loose—begging the question of whether or not they were written out with anything more than a bare minimum of explanation—leaving the musicians plenty of room to explore and expand upon them as they play.

While much of the album sustains a deliberately measured tempo, there are a couple of places that break the pace. "Choctaw" changes gears by going up-tempo with a lightly galloping rhythm, kept in broken time on the ride cymbals. Rava takes the opportunity to invoke some of Miles Davis' most searching improvisations from the era of the Second Great Quintet. A couple of tracks later, "Cornettology"—a name play on Charlie Parker's "Ornithology"— bursts with some twisted version of a bebop melody, before it quickly collapses into pure improvisation. Pianist Giovanni Guidi makes the most of the opportunity with long, free runs of impeccable craftsmanship.

Then, as a reminder that he can do it, Rava plays a lovely ballad with "F. Express," featuring a relatively—for this album, anyway—standard rhythmic structure as well as a prominent solo by guest guitarist Giacomo Ancillotto.

In addition to intricate, beautifully crafted music, Tribe benefits from the first rate production values that have become de rigueur from the ECM label. This is just another in a long line of sonically exemplary recordings in label head/producer Manfred Eicher's catalog. If there's one quibble, it's this: the packaging is a dark slate blue, and some of the lettering, notably the instrumentation list, is tiny and black, rendering it almost impossible to read. ECM always maintains its eerie aesthetic, but is legibility too much to ask?

But, of course, Tribe is to be listened to not read, and it's well worth hearing. This is first-rate improvisational music, contained in a gorgeous, accessible sonic landscape. Congratulations to Rava on an exceptional work.

Track Listing: Amnesia; Garbage Can Blues; Choctaw; Incognito; Cornettology; F. Express; Tears for Neda; Song Tree; Paris Baguette; Planet Earth; Tribe; Improvisation.

Personnel: Enrico Rava: trumpet; Gianluca Petrella: trombone; Giovanni Guidi: piano; Gabriele Evangelista: double bass; Fabrizio Sferra: drums; Giacomo Ancillotto: guitar (1, 6-8).

Title: Tribe | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: ECM Records

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