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Enrico Rava: Full of Life

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Many of the best trumpet players don’t live in the U.S. anymore. They live in places like Warsaw and London and Rome. A quality that Europeans like Tomasz Stanko and Kenny Wheeler and Enrico Rava have in common is that they employ the instrument as a means, a chosen medium, not as an end. They use their considerable chops to serve the story.

Full of Life is what its title says, although not loudly. Its vitality emerges from restless subtle energies distributed, then redistributed, among the leader plus Javier Girotto (baritone and soprano saxophones), Ares Tavolazzi (bass) and Fabrizio Sferra (drums). The ensemble expands and contracts as an organism, collectively rousing and subsiding, provoking and responding, conjoining in relaxed yet intricate counterpoint. (Such selflessness is not exclusive, but perhaps more common, in European jazz.)

The general mellowness and the instrumentation inevitably recall the Gerry Mulligan-Chet Baker pianoless quartet. Rava comes partly out of Baker (like so many European trumpet players), but his lyricism is freer, less naive. Like Tomasz Stanko without the tonal grit and gnarled edges, Rava plays lines often striking in their out-of-nowhere freshness, lines that usually end, not with a period, but with a question mark or an ellipsis. They hang in the air, unresolved, as ambiguous as our times.

Rava and Girotto write material that stimulates this band’s interactive strengths. But it is the evergreen standards that establish the most intriguing tensions with such an unsentimental, 21st-century ensemble. “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top” is cool, deadpan, detached and affectionate. “Moonlight in Vermont” is wistfulness broken down into its component parts and freely reassembled. The best is “Nature Boy.” A lot of people do “Nature Boy,” but Rava’s version smolders, with much of the melody, but also broken shards of it in trills and ascents, all passionately proceeding in a crawl.