Enrico Rava's sporadic appearances on ECM include a pair of mid-1970s outings with John Abercrombie, not to mention a bit part on Carla Bley's eccentric 1974 classic Escalator Over the Hill. The patriarch of Italian jazz returns to ECM with Easy Living, a rhapsodic nine-track offering with his latest working quintet.
The first half of the program is solidly ECM: stately and dark. "Cromosomi" leads off with a moody descending line, followed by the piano-and-trumpet duo sketch "Drops" and the mallet-driven, straight-eighth groove of "Sand." Rava centers the music with his caramel tone and spacious rhythmic concept, without quashing the more whimsical voice of trombonist Gianluca Petrella or the technically dazzling presence of pianist Steffano Bollani. Bassist Rosario Bonaccorso and drummer Roberto Gatto propel and color every tune with skill and imagination.
"Easy Living," the one piece not penned by Rava, gets an evocative trumpet, piano and brushes treatment in the key of G. Rava doesn't linger over the Robin and Rainger standard, and "Algir Dalbughi" arrives as a jolt, evolving into boogie-ish swing after Bollani's crisp solo intro. Then, after a brief ensemble sketch carrying the lovely title "Blancasnow," the band is cooking again, in 6/8 time, on "Traveling Night." The heat continues on "Hornette and the Drums Thing," in a brisk 4/4 under ethereal harmonies. Rava sounds positively jubilant on this, but then wraps up the album with the melancholy jazz ballad "Rain."
It's hard to imagine a trumpet sound more burnished and fine than Rava's. His music, too, gains much from the youthful, extroverted personalities of Bollani and Petrella. That was clear during a special one-nighter at the Blue Note in New York earlier this year. It comes through on record as well.