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Enrico Rava Quintet: Tribe

John Kelman By

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Plenty has happened since Enrico Rava last recorded with his working quintet. All but the piano chair remained stable between Easy Living (ECM, 2004) and The Words And The Days (ECM, 2007), but trombonist Gianluca Petrella is the sole remnant on Tribe. "Change is good," they say, and if the rest of Rava's quintet consists of largely fresh (and young) faces, the lack of name power shouldn't be mistaken for lack of firepower.

In a post-show interview following a blistering set with his New York Days (ECM, 2009) quintet in Germany—part of Enjoy Jazz 2009's 40th anniversary ECM Record celebration—Rava alluded to being freer now than in the 1960s, no longer constrained, as he was, by free jazz's largely steadfast avoidance of time, changes and/or lyricism. Tribe celebrates true freedom, as the trumpeter's quintet—expanding to a sextet on four tracks with guitarist Giacomo Ancillotto—works its way through eleven compositions and a closing free improv that, in its haunting melancholy and unrepentant lyricism, is as strong an endorsement of Rava's asserted freedom as anything in the set. That's not to say it doesn't travel to more outré terrain, but the final minute of the aptly titled "Improvisation" reduces to just trumpet and trombone, Petrella creating a soft pedal tone over which Rava gradually hones in on a single note that, in its gradual fade to black, reflects a shared allegiance to both transparency and space, permitting the music to breathe, regardless of context.

More than half of Tribe's eleven tracks come from past Rava releases—the relentless forward motion of the sketch-like title track dating back to 1977's The Plot (ECM)—lending an overall sense of consolidation, and irrefutable evidence that good writing never loses its relevancy.

Rava's relationship with the near-vocally expressive Petrella (nearing a decade) is the fulcrum on which a more emergent chemistry pivots amidst, though tracks like "Cornettology"—from Rava's TATI (ECM, 2007) but actually going back to Secrets (Soul Note, 1987)—clarify a collaborative intelligence all the more remarkable for its relative nascency, and for the almost impossible musical maturity of bassist Gabriele Evangelista and pianist Giovanni Guidi, still in their mid-twenties.

Rubato tone poems like "Song Tree" and the TATI-like trumpet/piano/drums trio of "Paris Baguette" juxtapose with haunting, time-based ballads like "Incognito" and the greater detail of "F. Express," where Ancillotto's Bill Frisell-like textural breadth quickly turns more overtly virtuosic. Rava is capable of great beauty, but even the bittersweet romanticism of "Planet Earth" (also from Secrets) isn't a given; once Petrella, Evangelista and drummer Fabrizio Sferra join the trumpeter and Giudi, it's not long before things dissolve into fierier freedom, despite the underscoring constant of Rava's inherent melodism.

Were it not for all signs leading to even greater future heights for this significantly revamped lineup, the coalescence of a life's worth of experiences into some of the most cogent and creative music of his career would make Tribe an unequivocal zenith. Either way, it's one of the strongest albums of Rava's career, and certainly his best since returning to ECM in 2003 after a quarter century hiatus.

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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