Two horn greats create true harmony between Europe and the United States in 2019 on their first duo LP for ECM
Artist: Enrico Rava/Joe Lovano
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Trumpeter Enrico Rava has been one of the major figures of European jazz for half a century, particularly in his native Italy. Though more of a cult figure in the States, he’s still a well-respected musician, with a large and diverse catalog on ECM, starting with 1975’s classic The Pilgrim and the Stars. That also inaugurated his frequent collaborations with American musicians – guitarist John Abercrombie in that case, folks like saxophonist Mark Turner, trombonist Roswell Rudd, drummer Paul Motian and others later on. Though contemporary sax giant Joe Lovano and Rava are old friends, the pair have rarely worked together. That state of affairs changes for the better via the tour captured on their first duo album Roma, on which the pair is joined by Rava’s countryman Giovanni Guidi on piano and Americans Dezron Douglas on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums.
As influenced by Miles Davis as any brass man of his generation, Rava has long maintained an exceptional lyricism in his tone – an ability to be melodic no matter how he blows. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t swing, though, which puts him in perfect company with the hard-bopping Lovano. For example: Rava’s “Interiors” sets the scene. The trumpeter starts with the kind of chamber jazz for which ECM is known, all shimmering atmosphere and enigmatic tuneage. But the rhythm section begins to build up its energy level and Lovano revs up his own engine, spraying out leads that color inside the lines, but only just. Rava answers in kind, showing off his love of bop in all its variations, before letting Guidi’s rippling fingers join in the fun. By the time the quintet finishes the fifteen-minute tune, a sweat has definitely been worked up.
The band engages with a sweeter melody on Rava’s “Secrets,” but swings even harder, thanks to Douglas and Cleaver’s insistent rhythm work, which inspires the horn players to greater heights. Lovano takes the wheel for his own “Fort Worth,” a hard bop tribute to that Texas city’s jazz greats Ornette Coleman, Dewey Redman and Julius Hemphill. Though it’s nowhere near as avant-garde as might be expected from its inspirations, the track still burns, as everyone evokes the mid-sixties sound of Miles’ second great quartet while still sounding like themselves. Guidi is particularly inspiring here, filling the same space as Herbie Hancock without imitating the master. Lovano’s “Divine Timing” loosens the bop anchor, letting Douglas, Cleaver and Guidi wander around the meter and Lovano and Rava fly like birds riding the wind in a thunderstorm. Two-thirds of the way in, however, the rhythm section suddenly locks in, allowing the blowers to bring the tune home in swinging fashion.
The quintet finishes the album (and presumably the show) with a nearly nineteen-minute epic medley. Lovano’s “Drum Song” kicks it off freeform, the musicians swirling around each other with seemingly little connection…until everyone comes together for the 6/8 swing of John Coltrane’s “Spiritual,” one of the master’s most engrossing tunes, given an explosive reading here. That, in turn, evolves into a lovely coda of the Judy Garland standard “Over the Rainbow,” led by Guidi’s soothing keyboard work. It’s an incredible showcase for what this combination of musicians can accomplish; to say it’s a tour de force doesn’t seem to give it enough credit. Of course, that could easily be said of the album as a whole, which is a highlight in the careers of both horn players. Let’s hope this is merely the beginning for this particular conglomeration.
AUDIO: Enrico Rava/Joe Lovano “Interiors” (Live)